Nation & World

Florida Gov. Scott sues feds over Medicaid expansion

Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare,” Scott said in a statement.

The announcement is but the latest round in an ongoing spat between Scott and the feds.

It centers around a $2.2 billion program known as the Low Income Pool, which provides funding to hospitals that treat uninsured and Medicaid patients. The LIP program is scheduled to expire in June, unless the state and federal government can negotiate a successor program. But despite weeks of negotiations, no deal has been reached.

In a letter Tuesday, the federal agency handling the negotiations told Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration that any decision regarding LIP would be tied to whether the state uses federal Medicaid expansion money to expand coverage — a politically charged policy option Scott has recently come out against.

Scott said linking the two issues violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that the president cannot force Medicaid expansion on states.”

“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety net healthcare services they need,” Scott said.

He called the actions “outrageous and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.”

The lawsuit stands to further tie up the budget building process, which is already behind schedule and is likely to force lawmakers into a special or extended legislative session.

Senate leaders have said they want to hear from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on the future of the LIP program before deciding how to spend state money. If no federal LIP funds are awarded, Florida could be facing a $1.3 billion budget gap.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he supported the governor’s authority “to protect the state’s interests in the way he sees fit.”

But Gardiner also said the clock is ticking, and the budget must be balanced.

“From where I sit, it is difficult to understand how suing CMS on day 45 of a 60-day session regarding an issue the state has been aware of for the last 12 months will yield a timely resolution to the critical health care challenges facing our state,” he said.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, however, said he didn’t expect the suit to affect the budget.

Crisafulli, a staunch opponent of using federal dollars to expand health care, said Scott was making an important point: “You can’t force the state to take on Medicaid expansion.”

Scott has repeatedly tangled with the federal courts when defending his policies or challenging the federal government.

Last year, Scott’s Agency for Health Care Administration filed suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, accusing the agency of providing substandard care to veterans after AHCA inspectors were denied access to federal VA hospitals.

The governor also asked the U.S. Supreme Court last year to hear his appeal of a federal court ruling that he issued an unconstitutional executive order in 2011 that allowed suspicionless drug testing of state workers.

The nation’s high court declined to hear the case.

Scott last year dropped the state’s appeal of a federal court order that Florida illegally began a statewide “purge” of suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls less than 90 days before an election, which is not allowed by federal law.

The latest threat of legal action drew criticism from Democrats, who called the case “ridiculous.”

“It’s more of the same from the governor,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach. “It’s a corporate reaction: We sue people. The sad thing is it is going to cost the taxpayers.”