Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Thursday he will sue to stop U.S. health leaders from ending more than $1 billion in federal funding for low-income patients, arguing it stems from the state's refusal to expand Obamacare for the working poor.
Scott pledged to take legal action, but provided no details, amid an escalating fight between Florida's Republican leaders and President Barack Obama's administration.
The dispute has become entangled in Florida's rejection, so far, of about $51 billion in federal dollars available over 10 years to expand Medicaid coverage to some 1 million Floridians under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Scott singled out a letter this week in which federal officials acknowledged a connection between Medicaid expansion and ongoing negotiations with Florida officials over the state's "Low Income Pool." Florida stands to lose about $1 billion in federal funding to pay hospitals for treating needy patients.
He contends the Democratic president is "crossing the line into a coercion tactic" in violation of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling allowing each state to decide whether to accept the expansion.
"It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare," he said in a statement.
Debate over expanding Medicaid has deadlocked Florida's GOP-controlled legislature. State senators want to take the money, but their counterparts in the more conservative House of Representatives remain staunchly opposed.
Florida's low-income pool, launched in 2006, had been designed to support safety-net hospitals for a limited time, U.S. health officials said. Expanding Medicaid would reduce the financial burden of uncompensated care in Florida, they noted.
Medicaid expansion and low-income pool funding "are linked in considering a solution for Florida's low income citizens, safety net providers, and taxpayers," Vikki Wachino, an acting director for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said this week in the letter to state officials.
Following a one-year extension, the federal funding is now due to expire in June.
Scott, once a tepid supporter of expansion, recently backpedaled. He said he no longer trusts the federal government to honor its funding commitment amid the dispute over the low-income funding for hospitals, which has stalemated negotiations over the state's more than $80 billion budget.