04/01/2011 12:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2011

Governor Scott One Step Closer to Handing Medicaid Over to For-Profit HMOs

Republicans in Tallahassee are on a fast track towards decimating health care in Florida. Yesterday, the Florida House Budget Committee passed a proposal to eliminate $50 million for cancer research. I drafted this measure while in the State Senate to increase the cigarette tax by a dollar, generating $1 billion in health care funding and at least $50 million for lifesaving cancer research. This legislation garnered bipartisan support because cancer is an issue with no political boundaries, tragically touching the lives of most Americans.

Cancer research is now in the Republican crosshairs because they need to plug the holes they are blowing into the Medicaid system relied on by three million low-income, poor, elderly, and jobless Floridians. Simultaneously advancing in the legislature is a bill implementing statewide the for-profit Medicaid HMO experiment that has failed my constituents in Broward County. There, HMOs have tried to make a quick buck off Medicaid by bouncing families from insurance company to insurance company, restricting access to care, and even disenrolling high-risk pregnant women.

In what world does the governor believe we can save money by funneling taxpayer dollars to for-profit HMOs? Further, this reckless privatization plan endangers billions of dollars in annual federal Medicaid funding for Florida, posing tremendous long-term risk to taxpayers. Doctors and health providers who serve Medicaid patients know that letting HMOs siphon off some of the system's already insufficient funding will only make things worse. The bill will also increase uncompensated care taken on by hospitals, and other providers by eliminating coverage for "medically-needy" Floridians and capping state Medicaid funding.

These same battles are playing out in Washington. Rather than end billion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for oil companies or close offshore tax loopholes, Republicans slashed billions in funding for research into cancer, Alzheimer's, and other diseases at the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and other scientific powerhouses. Apparently, Tallahassee is using the same playbook that emphasizes cuts at all costs -- even at the expense of basic health care, life-saving research, and scientific advancement that can lead to a cure for cancer.

Washington Republicans are soon expected to unveil plans drastically cutting Medicaid, despite the fact that per capita, Medicaid spending grows at half the pace of private-sector health spending. It is true Medicaid is straining state budgets, but treating a symptom of high unemployment will not cure the disease. Since the financial crisis, stubbornly high unemployment has led more and more families to seek last resort care through Medicaid. Perhaps if Republicans in Tallahassee and in Washington focused more on boosting economic growth, creating new jobs, lowering insurance premiums, and bringing a shred of economic security back to middle class families, the American people -- and our state budgets -- would be better off.