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FL House GOP's balking at Medicaid cash could hurt party, Florida


"Republicans don't care."

Lenny Curry, the Republican Party of Florida chairman, reluctantly acknowledged the criticism in an email. And he proposed an antidote.

“It's not enough to say that we care about people,” Curry wrote, citing a conservative columnist. “You have to show up.”

The following day, Thursday, Florida House leaders showed up in the state Capitol, pitched a conservative health plan and played right into the don't-care criticism.

They said they didn’t care to take nearly $9.8 billion from the federal government over three years to help provide coverage to as many as 816,000 low-income Floridians. Their plan covers fewer people and costs the state treasury more money than proposals by Republican Gov. Rick Scott or the GOP-led Senate, who want to take the federal money for at least three years by expanding the Medicaid program.

The federal money, as much as $55 billion over a decade, would go a long way in a state where about one in four non-elderly residents is uninsured — the third-highest rate in the nation.

The House intransigence at expanding Medicaid doesn’t mean Republicans don’t care.

They care.

About GOP primary elections.

Taking the money risks exposure to potential opponents who will tar them for taking Medicaid money under Obamacare. It gives Obama a win.

But if Republicans care about general elections, too, they might want to take a look at the fastest-growing and most-sought-after segment of the electorate: Hispanics.

Hispanics account for about 35 percent of Florida’s Medicaid-eligible population.

And Hispanics favor Medicaid expansion in Florida, with 60 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed, according to a poll taken in early March by the Associated Industries of Florida, a conservative business lobby. Overall, Florida voters favored it 54-31 percent.

In a Pew Research survey before the 2012 election, Hispanics ranked healthcare as the third-most important issue behind education (1) and jobs (2). It was ahead of immigration (4). The results were similar to a 2011 Pew poll and other surveys.

So while Republicans nationally are talking about the need for immigration reform to get right with Hispanics, the data show Hispanics consistently care more about healthcare.

There’s a reason President Obama’s campaign touted Obamacare during the election. In addition to his hard line on immigration, Mitt Romney’s opposition to Obamacare helped drive Hispanics more to Obama’s fold.

“Healthcare was one of our top persuasion messages in the Hispanic community,” Ashley Walker, Obama’s Florida campaign manager.

Obamacare had a downside for some in the healthcare industry: It cut some Medicare reimbursement rates and a type of charity-care money, among other reductions.

Obamacare offset some of those cuts by expanding Medicaid. But when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, it ruled the Medicaid expansion would be voluntary in each state.

So states have a choice: Accept the Medicaid expansion to soften the blow of the cuts. Or bear the full brunt of the cuts and blame Obama.

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