FL Dems renew calls for Medicaid expansion, letting voters decide

Activists demonstrate in a Florida state House office in Miami, in support of expansion of health care coverage. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the midst of a pandemic that has sickened millions of Floridians, House and Senate Democrats announced Tuesday they want to expand Medicaid eligibility to provide health care coverage for hundreds of thousands who don’t currently qualify for it.

In that regard, they are seeking legislation in 2021 and a Constitutional amendment to ask voters in 2022 to allow for more people to qualify and get health insurance.

Senate Joint Resolution 276, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Annette Taddeo of Dade County and Sen. Lori Berman of Palm Beach County, calls for the statewide referendum on whether to expand eligibility to encompass people who are poor but not poor enough to qualify under current criteria.

Florida is one of 17 states that has not expanded eligibility for Medicaid coverage. Source: Medicaid.gov

At a press conference, Senate Democratic leaders Gary Farmer and Perry Thurston, both representing parts of Broward County, asked, if not now – in the midst of a pandemic that has sickened millions of Floridians and killed more than 28,000 — then when?

“The time is overdue and the time is now,” Farmer said, insisting Florida has never needed widespread, affordable health care more than it does now, with hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, struggling financially, trying to avoid infection, and uninsured since losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

In addition to a constitutional amendment, lawmakers are pushing for another approach, in the form of legislation. Thurston said his Senate Bill 556 and companion House Bill 443, sponsored by Orange County Rep. Geraldine Thompson, would expand Medicaid coverage to 900,000 low-income adults who do not qualify under the current criteria.

The expansion, in one form of another – proposed but defeated every year since 2012, Thurston said – would draw down to Florida $50 billion of federal health care funds under the Affordable Care Act. Florida is one of only 17 states that have refused to participate, according to federal Medicaid data.

Taddeo said Florida’s GOP leaders have “a hearing problem” and that voters should settle the issue with a constitutional referendum, as they did in restoring voting rights for ex-felons and raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Floridians were forced to take matters into their own hands, to force the changes they wanted to see,” Taddeo said, calling for them to have that opportunity again. “In the midst of a global pandemic, expanding Medicaid is clearly not a partisan issue. … Quality health care is a right, not a privilege.”

On Tuesday morning, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, reported that new enrollment in Medicaid from November to December exceeded official estimates by more than 50,000 people. Proponents of Medicaid expansion said the unforeseen surge in new enrollees is fresh evidence of how Floridians are suffering.