The Obama administration reminded Florida lawmakers Wednesday that it's not too late to expand Medicaid to more than 1 million residents in the state.
Health and Human Services officials laid out many of their same talking points during a telephone conference with reporters. The state will receive more than $50 billion federal dollars and the feds will pick up the tab for the expanded Medicaid population for the first three years and 90 percent after that as part of The Affordable Care Act.
When asked the reason for the call, officials said they're encouraged by the dialogue in the state on Medicaid expansion and wanted to join the conversation. But when pressed to see if they've had substantive conversations with Gov. Rick Scott or key House Republicans, officials sidestepped.
"There is no deadline at least from our perspective. Any time that the state would like to accept the offer on the extended Medicaid, they're welcome to do that," said Paul Dioguardi, HHS' director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.
State Democrats have tried to pressure Scott and Republican leaders, asking the governor to call a special session on the issue, and by holding town halls and circulating petitions. But any change is unlikely for now.
House Republicans aren't budging and Scott has said it doesn't make sense to call a special session unless they do.
Wednesday's call comes as hype is building around the federally run health exchanges, which are online marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can compare prices on health plans and purchase insurance. Enrollment begins Oct. 1.
But roughly 1 million Floridians fall into a gap and won't be able to get health coverage if Florida does not expand eligibility for its Medicaid program. They are people who make slightly too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid now, but are too poor to qualify for subsidies to help pay for health insurance through the new exchange. The federal law will not pay subsidies for those making below the federal poverty level, Dioguardi said.
"That's a group that will be stuck in the middle without access to coverage," he said.
Florida's current Medicaid eligibility cutoffs are among the stingiest in the country. Currently, the state spends about $21 billion a year to cover roughly 3 million patients.