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Florida Medicaid expansion rejected by state Senate panel

Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks during an interview in New York March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks during an interview in New York March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott's plan to expand Medicaid coverage to cover about 1 million more poor people suffered a potential death blow on Monday when the proposal failed to make it out of a key state legislative committee.

The Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act voted 7-4 to reject the expansion, with all of the committee's Republican members voting against the plan championed by Scott.

A House legislative committee rejected the expansion last week, with the Senate committee's vote its final rejection unless political leaders agree to present a new compromise bill later in the current legislative session.

"I am confident that the legislature will do the right thing and find a way to protect taxpayers and the uninsured in our state while the new healthcare law provides 100 percent federal funding," Scott said in a statement issued by his office after Monday's vote.

Scott, a Republican who bitterly fought President Barack Obama's national healthcare plan as a candidate and in his first two years as governor, did not elaborate.

But the backlash from Republican legislative majorities in Tallahassee was not unexpected.

Scott stunned many conservative supporters on February 20 when he endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid, provided the federal government picked up the full cost for the first three years as promised.

Other Republican governors, including Jan Brewer in Arizona and John Kasich in Ohio, have also battled to get Medicaid expansion approved by their state legislatures.

Florida's Republican lawmakers had been openly hostile to the expansion of Medicaid - the federal and state program that provides healthcare to poor and disabled people - and pledged to oppose it as they went about drawing up a budget for the next fiscal year.

The expansion has been fully backed by Florida's publicly owned hospitals, however, and is seen as a lifeline for many in the nation's fourth most populous state.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant called the Senate committee's rejection of the expansion a "stunning rebuke of Gov. Rick Scott and the common-sense policy that ensures more Floridians have access to the health insurance coverage they need."

But some political analysts said a revival of the expansion bill was still possible, especially since the powerful Florida Chamber of Commerce gave a qualified endorsement of Scott's proposal on Friday.

"I don't think the door is totally closed, but there's only a toe left keeping it open right now," said Susan MacManus, a Tampa-based political scientist at the University of South Florida.

(Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jan Paschal)

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