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Florida governor meets Sebelius on healthcare, bridles at cost

By Michael Peltier

(Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott kept up his attacks on Obamacare on Monday even after meeting U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, complaining that federal healthcare reforms could cost Florida $26 billion over the next decade.

Scott, a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, told reporters following the meeting in Washington that Medicaid program costs, which state officials say could mushroom over the next 10 years, continue to be his major concern.

Scott was among a group of Republican governors who fought hard against the federal mandate and waited until the outcome of the November election before proceeding in earnest to comply with the law.

"I understand the need to have a quality healthcare safety net for every Florida family that can't afford their own health care," Scott told reporters. "But we have to do it at a price that Floridians can afford."

Major Obamacare provisions include the creation of insurance exchanges, which are designed to provide online marketplaces for individuals to shop for health insurance. In Florida, about 21 percent of residents are uninsured.

The law, which requires individuals to have health insurance, allows states to operate the exchanges or enter into partnerships with the federal government. Florida missed a November deadline for submitting its own exchange proposal so it will rely on the federal government to do it, at least for now.

Like other states, Florida also has the option to expand its Medicaid rolls, with the federal government picking up a vast majority of costs at first.

Scott said Medicaid already accounts for about 30 percent of the state's budget and represented a cost that was growing at 3-1/2 times the rate of the state's general revenue.

"Growing government is never free," Scott said, alluding to fears that Florida taxpayers will wind up paying much of the cost of Medicaid expansion.

"Under the new healthcare law, Florida would nearly double the people in our Medicaid program over 10 years ... This would result in a total cost to taxpayers of more than $63 billion over 10 years, including $26 billion in costs to Florida taxpayers," he said.

Scott said he urged Sebelius to approve a pair of proposed Medicaid waivers filed a year ago to allow the state to place most Medicaid patients into HMO-type managed care plans, which backers say are less expensive than traditional fee-for-service arrangements.

"I don't want to promise somebody in our state something that eventually the state cannot afford," Scott said. "I'm worried not about the next three years, but the next six years, the next seven years."

(Editing by Tom Brown, Daniel Trotta and Carol Bishopric)

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