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Pam Bondi criticizes 'surrender' on Medicaid expansion

From the News Service of Florida:

A chorus of opposition is starting to take hold in the Florida Cabinet to Gov. Rick Scott’s stunning support for expanding Medicaid, with Attorney General Pam Bondi saying she objects to the idea.

“I am opposed to this dramatic expansion of Medicaid, because of the ultimate cost to Florida's taxpayers and because I don't think our state should surrender even more control over health care to the federal government,” Bondi said in an email Tuesday.

Bondi, who helped lead a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the federal Affordable Care Act, has joined Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in forming a potentially persuasive bloc as the Medicaid expansion issue moves before lawmakers.

Scott drew national headlines last week when he announced support for expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. The governor, who has been a longtime critic of the federal law better known as Obamacare, said he would support the expansion for three years and then require that it be revisited.

Bondi backed Putnam’s contention that once Medicaid is expanded to include residents up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, the state would be unable to back away from that position after three years. Opponents worry that could eventually create a massive fiscal burden to Florida.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who is the other member of the Cabinet, was unavailable to comment on Tuesday.

Under Obamacare, the federal government says it would fully pay the expansion costs during the first three years. The state in later years would pick up part of the tab, eventually paying 10 percent of the costs.

Estimates of the state's costs have varied. But the Urban Institute and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation have estimated that adding 1.3 million people to the Medicaid program could cost Florida $5.4 billion over the next decade, while the state would gain $66.1 billion in federal health care payments over the same time.

State economists serving on the Social Services Estimating Conference are expected to update cost projections on Friday.

Appearing on Fox News on Sunday, Bondi expressed hope that House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, would be able to influence their chambers to block the governor’s proposal.

Only one side of the Legislature is needed to kill the proposal.

The House and Senate have select committees on the Affordable Care Act that are set to hold meetings March 4, the day before the start of the regular legislative session.

The House committee is also scheduled to convene Thursday to discuss the impact of the law on the state-employee health insurance plan and on insurance regulations.

Gaetz has deferred direction on the Medicaid expansion to his select committee, while Weatherford has repeatedly expressed "skepticism" about Scott's proposal.

Putnam wasted no time last week announcing his displeasure with Scott.

"I've seen how issues like this explode in cost once they become an accepted part of policy,” Putnam said. “And it's just simply not realistic to think you would enroll over 1 million new people into a program that you would then end in three years.”

A Putnam supporter using the state Republican Party server to blast an email -- to make sure no one missed the comment -- has only fueled rumors that Putnam may be interested in running for the Governor’s Mansion.

The state party has pushed back against the blast, with Chairman Lenny Curry issuing a statement Monday that Putnam’s comments was not put out by the GOP.

"Although the email carried an RPOF disclaimer, neither the staff nor leadership of RPOF drafted, edited, or sent the email, nor was any RPOF mail list used," Curry stated. "RPOF's only role was in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the Internet server on behalf of Commissioner Putnam, which is standard for all statewide elected officials that are not currently candidates for office."