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McCollum Not a Fan of Baucus Health Care Bill

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum directed more pressure against a federal health care overhaul Thursday, urging the state’s two senators to vote against the latest Senate Democratic proposal as a threat to Florida finances.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, is calling for a mandatory expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal partnership that covers the poor and disabled.

But McCollum, in a letter to Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and George LeMieux, a Republican, warned that expansion “would have serious implications for Florida’s future budget.”

“If Congress expands the program without fully funding it, our state’s financial burden will increase significantly,” McCollum wrote. “As Florida is mandated to have a balanced budget each year, the state will certainly have to make budget cuts elsewhere to fund an expanded Medicaid program.”

With polls showing eroding support for the Obama administration’s health care initiative, McCollum clearly sees an opportunity to advance his gubernatorial bid by campaigning against the White House.

Only a week ago, McCollum held a news conference to denounce Obama’s push for what the attorney general called a “government-run health care option,” while announcing his campaign was forming a health-care advisory board to study the matter. Studies show some 4 million Floridians have no health coverage.

His Democratic opponent, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, had so far sidestepped the health care debate consuming Congress. But a campaign spokesman Thursday said she shares McCollum’s concerns about any Medicaid expansion that could sap Florida’s budget.

“CFO Sink has been very focused to ensure that any health care legislation does not pass on increased Medicaid costs to the states,” said Paul Dunn, Sink’s campaign spokesman. “But given (McCollum’s) past votes to slash Medicaid funding, we’re surprised that he’s suddenly cares about maintaining funding.”

Florida Democrats have shown that during his 20 years in Congress, McCollum voted at least a dozen times to reduce Medicare and Medicaid funding, totaling more than $650 billion in cuts to Medicare alone. He also voted to raise the eligibility standards for Medicare and Social Security programs and tightened funding for health care fraud investigations.

As attorney general, McCollum pointed out in his letter to senators that his office recouped $168 million last year through its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

“Every dollar lost to Medicaid fraud is a taxpayer dollar that should have gone to a Medicaid recipient in need,” McCollum said.

Baucus and other Democrats say the Medicaid expansion is part of the effort to provide health insurance to more Americans.

Medicaid currently covers low-income people who are disabled, elderly or pregnant, along with some low-income parents and their children. Most other adults, however, generally are not eligible for Medicaid benefits.

The Baucus bill, however, would require states in 2014 to cover adults who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, an annual income of about $14,400. The federal government would increase state funding to cover these new Medicaid recipients.

McCollum pointed out that Florida’s Medicaid program currently covers 2.7 million people and absorbs about a quarter of the state’s general revenue budget. Given the dollars at stake, “these concerns are even more critical to Florida,” he wrote.

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