Stymied by legislative inaction, Medicaid expansion advocates are launching a petition drive to put an amendment on the 2016 ballot that would let voters decide the issue.
If at least 60 percent of the electorate were to approve the amendment, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature would be required to accept and spend $52 billion worth of federal Medicaid expansion funding.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Washington is obligated to pay at least 90 percent of the cost of expansion, which would cover roughly 800,000 uninsured Floridians who are unable to afford private health insurance but aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid currently.
The petition drive, organized by the Florida Health Solutions political action committee, is being spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), who is promising a flurry of organizing between now and Feb. 1, the deadline for the committee to submit nearly 700,000 signed petitions in order for the amendment to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
More than an issue of compassion, Brown says Medicaid expansion is a matter of economics: as a so-called 'donor state', Florida sends more money to Washington than it receives in federal assistance.
"(It's) money that we're taxing Floridians, and we're sending it back," Brown complained in an interview. "I am on conference for transportation. We want the transportation dollars. We want the education dollars. Why is it that we don't want the dollars to take care of the sickest Floridians?"
While the Florida Senate has repeatedly voted in favor of expansion, the more conservative House has steadfastly opposed it. The lower chamber's Republicans point to political dysfunction in Washington as a harbinger of broken promises, including Medicaid expansion funding.
"Who's going to have that conversation with parents and say 'you know what, we cannot send your kids to college, even though they may be the first ones in the history of your family that have made it on to college, we can't do that because we don't have the money. Why? Because we chose to expand a broken system'," Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) said during a heated floor debate earlier this year.
Medicaid expansion looked poised to win Tallahassee's approval as recently as last November, following a combustible gubernatorial campaign in which both candidates, Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist, had pledged to accept the federal funding. Following his razor-thin victory, however, Scott flip-flopped on the issue, emboldening House Republicans in their opposition.
Brown predicts public opinion on Medicaid expansion will be markedly different than the prevailing opinion at the state Capitol.
"We need to make sure that the people in Florida soldier up! Sign those petitions! Let's get it on the ballot," Brown thundered.