By: Jason Millman
February 20, 2013 04:45 PM EST
Florida Gov. Rick Scott — a fierce foe of Obamacare who fought it all the way to the Supreme Court — on Wednesday announced that he would accept the Medicaid expansion under the health law.
He is the seventh GOP governor to do so — and arguably the biggest political symbol of grudging Republican acceptance that Obamacare is the law of the land.
Scott had campaigned against the health legislation even before he began running for office, and Florida led the 26 states that fought it in court.
On Wednesday, that changed as he agreed to take the federally financed expansion that would cover more than 1 million people — at least for the first three years.
“While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care,” he explained in a speech late Wednesday.
But Scott’s Medicaid endorsement comes with a caveat no other governor has proposed. He said he’ll push legislators to support just a three-year expansion of the program — which is after the end of his first term. That forces the state to re-evaluate the expansion before getting locked in for a longer-term commitment.
“This is a commonsense solution to dealing with this for the next three years,” Scott said. “It’ll give us time to think about how we can improve the system.”
Democrats and advocates of the health law were jubilant — but annoyed that it took so long.
"Three years of staunch opposition and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars later, embattled Gov. Rick Scott today flip-flopped on the central issue which has defined his political career,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.
“This stunning about-face is merely the latest move to repackage a governor whose approval rating with Floridians remains as toxic as his tea party agenda,” she added.
The road from Obamacare foe to Medicaid expander was a long and strange journey for Scott, a former hospital executive who spent millions four years ago in a failed attempt to derail the health care bill in Congress.
From there, he launched a gubernatorial bid in Florida, took office in 2011 and quickly aligned himself with Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — outspoken conservatives who have refused to lift a finger to implement Obamacare.
A few days after Obama won reelection, Scott gave a surprising interview to The Associated Press hinting a softening in his stalwart opposition. Amid unfavorable polls at home, Scott talked about wanting to work with the feds on the health law.
Scott’s Obamacare diplomacy led to a high-profile early January meeting with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, after which both sides expressed a commitment to keep working together. It also became apparent that Scott was trying to win concessions from HHS on how to design Florida’s Medicaid program. He won approval of two waivers — and the announcement came just hours after the second one.