Tampa Bay business leaders push Medicaid expansion
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09/17/13 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: healthcare business League of Women Voters Will Weatherford Medicaid expansion

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Business leaders in the Tampa Bay area are asking Florida lawmakers to accept federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid program for one million uninsured Floridians. Tampa General Hospital CEO Jim Burkhart said legislators need to compromise on a plan to accept the $51 billion left on the table this year.

“Which is $5.1 billion a year and by the way, we’re missing the first $5.1 billion, so the clock’s ticking.”

Supporters of expanding Medicaid stood behind speakers on a patio overlooking the Hillsborough River and Tampa General Hospital Tuesday morning with signs asking lawmakers to say “yes.” One read, “Yes for Jobs.” Bob Rohrlack is the president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

“What this translates to is over 121,000 new jobs over a ten year period for the state of Florida. Here in Tampa, Hillsborough County it’s over 7,000 jobs just for our city and county. That’s an average wage of over $50,000. That’s about 50% above our average wage – a significant increase.”

But it’s also a human issue. John Petrila, who is the chair of the USF Health policy and management department, said his father passed away in a nursing home as a Medicaid patient.

“My father died with the clothes in his closet in the nursing home. We were about to sell my mother’s house and would have had she died. So this is, in a sense, again if you strip away the politics, this is simply about people affording health care.”

He said the issue shouldn’t be about politics.

“Thirty-three percent of Floridians between the ages of 19 and 29 lack insurance.”

But Republicans in Tallahassee rejected the federal dollars despite a compromise that would have privatized the system. One of the most vocal opponents has been House Speaker Will Weatherford. Weatherford spoke at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon last week where he defended his stance.

“My problem is they’re only giving a certain amount of money for a certain period of time and then the state of Florida has to figure out how to pay for it later. This is the same federal government that said starting this year there was going to be an employer mandate and that they were going to force employers to either provide healthcare or fine them. Well, they just recently said, well we didn’t really mean 2013, we’re going to do 2014 or 2015 – they moved the date. So, the same federal government that can’t stick to their dates now wants me to believe that they can stick to the $51 billion promise that they’ve made. And oh, by the way, this is a partner that has a $17 trillion deficit.”

But Tampa General’s Burkhart doesn’t buy that argument.

“I have yet to see any of these cases in which money is saved by one state because they failed to participate that they turn around and say, we’ll reduce the federal deficit with that. What they do is they take that money and they give it to other states.”

Some healthcare professionals are worried about the lasting implications of not expanding the state’s Medicaid base. USF Health’s Petrila said the decision could lead to more uncompensated care provided by hospital to uninsured patients.

“In the states that are slated to not expand Medicaid, hospitals will receive $145 billion less nationally than they would with Medicaid, or 25% less. So, the fate of hospitals, the fate of the healthcare system is largely tied, whether we like to believe it or not, to what happens with expanding the insurance base.”

“I’m embarrassed that I’m a small business owner that is not able to provide healthcare insurance for my employees.”

That’s Erin Carr, owner of a healthcare concierge service called CompassCare.

“It’s not a coincidence that the nurses on my team all have spouses who are able to have access to healthcare plans.”

Many of Carr’s employees wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid even if the state approved the expansion. But Carr said accepting the federal funding would have a trickle down effect to the entire healthcare industry.

“But if you connect the dots or you follow the dollar, if that uninsured person shows at the hospital, the hospital provides uncompensated care, their costs are driven up, that’s passed along to the insurance company. When CompassCare gets a quote and wants to provide healthcare insurance for their employees, that’s at such an elevated level that the little guy just has a hard time competing and growing.”

The League of Women Voters is hosting press conferences across the state leading up to the upcoming legislative session in March. Business leaders and groups like chambers of commerce will continue to speak out in favor of expansion. The Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Rohrlack said groups have been meeting with legislative delegations and the Governor to plead their case.

“Well, we’re not trying to beat them into submission; we’re trying to educate them on the issue. We understand, but they’ll be issues tomorrow where we’ll want to work with them as well, so we’re working with them in an educated fashion to put our case in front of them and have businesses speak to them specifically, how it impacts them. We’ve met with the entire delegation including Speaker Weatherford who, we respect there’s disagreement, but we keep working towards the agreement and he keeps working with us on this and other issues.”

The Tampa League of Women Voters and the Kiwanis Club of Tampa will host a luncheon on October 16th at the Tampa Club. Vice President of Florida Blue, Jason Altmyer and Pasco County Tax Collector and former state legislator Mike Fasano will talk about the benefits of Medicaid expansion on businesses.

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