* State 10-yr cost now seen at $3 bln, vs $26 bln previously
* New estimate assumes federal government's trustworthiness
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Jan 10 In a dramatic
about-face, Florida's health agency now says the cost to state
taxpayers of expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama's
healthcare reform law would be barely more than a tenth of its
Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who had fought hard
against the reform law known as Obamacare, had complained on
Monday that the optional expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare
would cost Florida taxpayers $26 billion over the next decade,
using the original estimate by the state's Agency for Health
Care Administration. His comments followed closed-door talks
with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
But the state agency, which manages Florida's Medicaid
program, issued a new study late on Wednesday that put the
state's cost of expanding the government-run health insurance
program for the poor at about $3 billion over 10 years.
Critics said Florida's previous estimate was grossly
inflated and based on questionable assumptions. It ignored the
federal government's commitment to pick up most of the cost of
expanding Medicaid to cover more people in Florida.
Scott, a former healthcare executive, had voiced skepticism
about federal promises to fund the cost of Medicaid expansion on
Monday and said the program already eats up about 30 percent of
his state's budget.
"Growing government is never free," Scott said.
"I don't want to promise somebody in our state something
that eventually the state cannot afford," he added.
The new estimate assumes the federal government will keep
its promise and fund at least 90 percent of the additional
coverage. It falls more in line with other attempts to calculate
the costs of adding 1 million recipients to Florida's Medicaid
Critics say Republicans have been dragging their feet and
argue that governor used the higher figure to scare voters into
opposing the Medicaid expansion plan.
In his talks with Sebelius on Monday, Scott said he urged
the government to approve a pair of proposed Medicaid waivers
for Florida that would allow the state to transfer most Medicaid
patients into HMO-type managed-care plans, which backers say are
less expensive than traditional fee-for-service programs.
"Despite efforts to make the burden of Medicaid expansion
seem onerous and unsustainable, in fact the opposite is true,"
said the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.