Because of former Florida governor and current U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, nearly half a million people in Florida who would otherwise be covered by Medicaid are uninsured. It turns out that not only was Scott indifferent to the uninsured, he also might be the worst politician with regards to HIV and AIDS since Ronald Reagan.
The Guardian reported early Wednesday that while Scott was governor of Florida, the state rejected $70 million dollars from the federal government to combat HIV in his state, which might give a hint as to why the HIV crisis in Florida became “almost peerlessly severe,” according to the Guardian. Per the paper:
From 2015 to 2017, Florida was forced to return to the federal government $54m in unspent grants for combating HIV – due to an apparently deliberate failure on the part of state health bosses to secure legislative permission to spend such desperately needed funds.
Furthermore, in 2015 Scott’s administration directly blocked two US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant applications that would probably have won Miami and Broward counties, which have HIV diagnosis rates among the highest in the US, approximately $16m.
According to the CDC, in 2017 Florida saw the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the US: 4,783 cases, or 13% of the national total. This meant the state, which had an estimated HIV population of 135,000, had an annual diagnosis rate per 100,000 residents of 27, second only to Georgia’s 30 and nearly double New York’s 16.
Amazing. Who could possibly know that if you turned down tens of millions of dollars in free money from the federal government to solve a problem, it won’t get better and actually might get worse?
While the Guardian cites the Florida Department of Health’s “strict management structure” as a reason for why few know about the scandal—let alone that there haven’t been any repercussions for it—former employees of the Department of Health’s HIV section opened up about it. Crediting Scott with “fueling the epidemic in Florida,” former HIV section chief Marlene LaLota described being stymied at every turn by the administration in her attempts to handle the crisis.
“I wrote a plan to end the epidemic. But we were stopped at every turn,” LaLota, who now works for the New York-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is currently suing the state over a Medicaid contract. “We could not give that money away to save my life. It was so criminal and so egregious.”
Scott denied the claims in the article through a spokeswoman, who told the Guardian that the matters at hand were budgetary and thus solely under the purview of the legislature. According to LaLota, however, the administration explicitly prohibited her section from speaking to legislators about the budget. “Rick Scott had us all on lockdown,” LaLota said.
Scott left office earlier this year, and then was promptly sworn in as a United States senator after defeating incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by a razor-thin margin last year. You know what they say: good things happen to those who have assets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.