The political fight over President Obama’s health care legislation did not end with the Supreme Court decision; if anything, it’s just getting started. Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott says he has no plans to implement some key parts of the law, and Latino Republicans in the state agree.
“The reality is for the last few years, we have had a billion-dollar budget deficit in Florida,” says Florida Republican state senator Anitere Flores. “Adding a million and a half more residents to our Medicaid program is a disservice to the state as a whole.” Flores says the current fee-for-service Medicaid system does not work well, is riddled with fraud, and she thinks it is best to first make the program more efficient before expanding it.
While the Supreme Court said the health care law is constitutional, the Justices said states are not obligated to expand their Medicaid programs. Medicaid expansion, however, is one of the key ways the federal government planned to increase insurance coverage to low-income working Americans. Under the health care plan, families making up to 133 percent of the poverty level, about $29,000 for a family of four, would be added to the Medicaid rolls. The federal government would initially pay a state’s Medicaid expansion for the first three years.
Florida, along with states like Texas and Louisiana, argue it will severely strain their resources. These states, however, are under Republican governors. The issue of Medicaid expansion falls basically along partisan lines. What complicates matters, is that the states with the highest number of uninsured Latinos are in fact Texas, Florida and California.
In Florida, Democratic Latino legislators are upset over Governor Scott’s recent comments.
“Latinos might live longer, but they have higher rates of disability and chronic disease,” says Florida Democratic state representative Janet Cruz. “Lack of access means Hispanics cannot treat these conditions. We have to wake up and realize we’re a population that has been taken advantage of,” adds Cruz.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has not come out and said he refuses to implement the Medicaid expansion, but he as well as Republican legislators have strongly condemned the Affordable Care Act. Republican congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco called the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act disappointing, saying the “government takeover of health care” is a burden for families and small businesses.
Texan Latino Democrats strongly disagree, saying the Medicaid expansion is a way to lower the numbers of uninsured Latinos – about half of Texas’ Hispanics lack health insurance.
“This is not the poorest of the poor,” said Texas state senator Leticia Van de Putte to the Houston Chronicle. “These are the folks who are working in the service industry; they’re working in restaurants, entry-level clerical and retail. They make too much now for Medicaid,” she said.
Francisco Pedraza, a political scientist at Texas A&M, says the different ways the Florida and Texas governors reacted to the Supreme Court decision says something about which states are “in play” this November.
“Florida is a battleground state,” says Pedraza. ” he explains. “In places where electoral votes matter, you can’t sit on the fence.”
By contrast, says Pedraza, Texas is considered a “safe” Republican state, which is why Perry and other legislators might be waiting to see the presidential results in November before committing to whether they will implement
the new law.
The bigger issue for Latinos, says Pedraza, is whether policy makers and legislators from both sides of the aisle will work to chip away at Hispanics’ high rates of uninsurance, whether it’s done in the glare of election coverage or behind the scenes at the State houses.