TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott signaled on Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul may not be implemented in the state as a legal battle over the law appears headed to the Supreme Court.
Scott, a former healthcare executive, spoke a day after a federal judge in Florida struck down healthcare overhaul as unconstitutional and sided with plaintiff governors and attorneys general from 26 states, almost all of them Republicans, in declaring it void.
The Obama administration plans to appeal the decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola and said it believed it would prevail on the highly politicized issue, which was a signature issue of the Obama administration.
But the ruling has fueled widespread uncertainty about the fate of the law and the application of many of its provisions by conservatives like Scott, who have said they are hopeful and confident Vinson’s ruling will be upheld on appeal.
“We are not going to spend a lot of time and money with regard to trying to get ready to implement that (law) until we know exactly what is going to happen,” Scott told reporters.
“I hope and I believe that either it will be declared unconstitutional or it will be repealed,” said Scott, who bankrolled his election in November with $72 million of the fortune he amassed as head of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain.
Scott did not elaborate on specific aspects of the law that he and other Republican governors might delay in implementing.
But Florida’s Deputy Insurance Commissioner Mary Beth Senkewicz said Scott was adamant about doing as little as possible to advance Obama’s healthcare overhaul in the fourth-largest U.S. state, which is known for its sun-drenched beaches and large number of elderly retirees.
Florida also has a large population of people with no healthcare insurance. The reform law, enacted last year, aims to expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans while also curbing costs. Administration officials insist it is needed to stem huge projected increases in healthcare costs.
“NO INTEREST IN GOING FORWARD”
“The governor has no interest in going forward with implementation until the court decides,” Senkewicz told the Florida Insurance Advisory Board in a conference call on Tuesday.
One of the law’s major provisions this year is that health insurance companies -- which include Aetna Inc and Wellpoint Inc -- face limits that call for at least 85 cents of every premium dollar to go toward medical costs, with 15 cents for overhead and salaries. Small group or individual plans must spend 80 cents per dollar on care.
Other provisions, which took effect in September, include allowing children to stay on their parents’ health health insurance plan until age 26, banning lifetime coverage limits and ending denial of coverage for children because of pre-existing conditions.
Scott’s comments on Tuesday drew sharp criticism from Florida Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich after Vinson, who was appointed to the bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan, threw out the linchpin of federal efforts to change the way health care is delivered in the United States.
“I am very disappointed by Republican Governor Rick Scott’s reported decision to halt Florida’s implementation of the federal healthcare law,” Rich said in a statement.
“I fear what he began as his own personal vendetta against the president’s healthcare initiative has morphed into a personal war using the governor’s office as his launching pad.”
Columbia/HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines to settle the biggest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history in the late 1990s. Scott was never charged in the case and has repeatedly said he had no direct knowledge of the company’s fraudulent billing practices.
Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott