TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Supporters of expanding health coverage to uninsured Floridians are trying to turn up the pressure on House Speaker Will Weatherford, who opposes taking federal cash for that goal.
State lawmakers, veterans, church leaders, and others gathered at Speaker Weatherford's office in the Capitol to urge him to change his position and accept the federal money for expanded health coverage in Florida.
They sang songs, prayed and told stories of Floridians who face serious medical problems but cannot get care because they don't have health insurance.
One protester held up a large poster-sized check written for $51 billion and made out to "The Other 49 States."
The group urged state lawmakers to accept more than $50 billion of federal money available through Affordable Care Act over the next 10 years to expand health coverage to uninsured Floridians.
U.S Rep. Corrine Brown said she traveled to Tallahassee because she thought it was so important to stand up for expanded health care coverage.
Brown said Floridians should not have to send their tax dollars to Washington, only to have the cash sent to other states.
"When are we going to get with it Floridians? When are we going to get sick and tired of being a donor state. It is not acceptable. We need to let our legislators know that we want our tax dollars to stay in Florida. I cannot believe that you could be that stuck on stupid, I'm sorry. They asked me to be nice but I just can't believe it."
Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, echoed that point.
"We know that there are dollars associated with this program that our tax dollars have gone into at the federal level and we're simply asking that our share of the pie comes to Florida and that we not continue to write checks as you see here today to other states."
Vietnam veteran Tom Baxter called it morally wrong not to accept the billions in federal money for health insurance when there are more than 40,000 uninsured military veterans across Florida who could benefit.
"Speaker Weatherford and the Florida House have turned their backs on our veterans and their families. This is not right. Today I call upon the House and the leadership to expand Medicaid with the money already set aside by the federal government to more than one million hard-working families."
Weatherford met with the group and explained why he opposes Medicaid expansion. He also talked about the alternative health care proposal from the House, which would use only state money to extend health coverage to about 115,000 people.
He said the state cannot count on the federal government to follow through on its promise to send billions of dollars to help uninsured people get health coverage.
Meanwhile, the Senate has a broader plan that would accept the federal cash and offer health insurance to an additional million Floridians.
At this point, the two chambers are sharply divided and it's unclear which proposal will ultimately prevail.
Rep. Brown wants to stir up opposition to the House plan and hopes Gov. Rick Scott takes a stronger stand articulating his support for accepting federal money.
"People calling their legislators. Demonstrations. I think the governor has to have some leadership in this state."