Years of Republican refusal to expand Medicaid access in Florida hasn’t diminished the electorate’s appetite for making the health-care program more widely available, and the state’s Democratic candidates seem to have gotten the message.
Florida Democrats this week launched a Medicaid expansion tour as they try to loosen the GOP’s grip on both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office. The tour highlights the benefits of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, which would add almost a million people to Medicaid rolls in Florida. Expansion of Medicaid would drop Florida’s uninsured rate from 15.7 percent to 11.1 percent, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute.
Recent data seems to validate Democrats’ focus on Medicaid expansion in the run-up to November’s elections: The policy has majority support in every one of the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, according to Data for Progress, a left-leaning think tank using data science to analyze political issues. Expansion likely enjoys high levels of support among people of color, women, and those with low incomes. Even 53 percent of white males support the move.
Expanding access to Medicaid has higher approval in Florida than Gov. Rick Scott (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who is being challenged by Scott for his Senate seat, according to analysis released in May by Data for Progress. The data “could not produce a single legislator at any level of government in Florida who is personally more popular than Medicaid expansion.”
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Though Florida Democrats’ Medicaid expansion tour is new—starting Tuesday in Gainesville—the push to join 31 other states in expanding Medicaid started in 2017. Florida Democratic legislators in December filed resolutions that would amend the state constitution to expand the health-care program. State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami-Dade) pushed for Medicaid expansion and won a special election last year that flipped a GOP seat.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a St. Leo Polling Institute survey strongly agreed with expanding Medicaid, which would make the program available to those making 138 percent of the poverty line. Twenty-nine percent somewhat supported expansion, while 11 percent somewhat opposed it and 17 percent strongly opposed the policy.
The Data for Progress analysis shows that support for expanding Medicaid reaches more than 70 percent in traditionally Democratic districts. Support for expansion ranges from the mid-50s and low-60s in Republican districts.
“States that have expanded Medicaid have seen their health care outcomes rise to the top,” state senate candidate Kayser Enneking said Tuesday at the Democrats’ Medicaid expansion tour stop, Florida Politics reported. “The argument that we can’t afford to expand Medicaid is a false argument.”
In 2018, the federal government will pay for 94 percent of the cost of expansion, while the state pays the remainder. That federal “matching rate” will ratchet down to 90 percent by 2020, but never go below that. State-level GOP legislators across the United States are turning down at least $32 billion from the federal government by not expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.
Virginia Democrats, with the help of a few GOP lawmakers, pushed through Medicaid expansion this month after making outsized gains in the November 2017 election. Many of those freshman Virginia Democratic lawmakers campaigned on Medicaid expansion and other measures that would make health care more accessible. Around 400,000 people in Virginia will benefit from expansion.
“Democrats in search of a policy agenda that works for all Americans need look no further than making our most popular and successful anti-poverty measures available to all,” John Ray, senior adviser at Data for Progress, said in a statement.
Florida lawmakers in 2015 came close to expanding Medicaid access. Statehouse GOP leaders halted the legislative session that year after the state senate had approved funds that would have made expansion possible. Scott then filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, alleging it tried to coerce the state into expanding Medicaid access.
Scott, a former hospital executive whose company paid more than $840 million in fines for defrauding Medicaid and Medicare, has deemed Floridians losing access to health care a “federal problem.” He’s has gone back and forth on whether he backs Medicaid expansion.