Reporter William March has covered state and national politics since 1994. Email
Reporter Mike Salinero has covered Hillsborough County government since 2007. Email
Reporter James L. Rosica covers state government from the Tribune's Tallahassee bureau. Email
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Weatherford family got help from Medically Needy program
Posted Mar 6, 2013 by William March
Updated Mar 6, 2013 at 07:26 PM
State House Speaker Will Weatherford, who opposes a federally funded expansion of Medicaid to people just above the federal poverty line, acknowledged today that his own family benefitted in the 1990’s from the Medically Needy Program.
That program is part of Medicaid. But Weatherford said the Medicaid expansion he opposes wouldn’t help children such as his brother.
Weatherford’s brother Peter was diagnosed with cancer at age 14 months in 1994, his father, Bill Weatherford, said in an interview Wednesday. The baby received two operations at All Children’s Hospital, including two hospital stays of a week or more each, without the family having to pay.
Bill Weatherford said he was then struggling as an industrial real estate broker in an unfavorable real estate climate and had eight other children including Will Weatherford.
Peter didn’t survive—“He was battling a monster,” said his father.
In a speech to the opening session of the state House Tuesday, Weatherford cited the “safety net” that aided his own family as a major part of his reason for opposing the expansion of Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
“I believe in a safety net. My family has benefitted from a safety net,” he said, describing his baby brother’s case. “It was the safety net that picked my father up. It was the safety net that picked my family up. I will continue to believe in and fight for a strong safety net for Floridians.”
But he said the Medicaid expansion “crosses the line of the proper role of government,” and that “a government that grows too big, becomes too intrusive and fosters too much dependency, will threaten our liberty, our freedom and our prosperity.”
After reporters asked Weatherford what program it was that helped his family, and his father suggested it may have been Medicaid, news stories suggested Weatherford wanted to deny others help from a program that had benefitted him.
In response to the questions, he researched his family’s medical history, and issued a statement today saying Peter “was covered under the Medically Needy program, which is a temporary month to month form of assistance.
“Now that the safety net that benefitted my family has been clearly identified, I trust that the debate can return to the important question of Medicaid expansion and its impact on the economic and personal freedom of Floridians.”
Weatherford didn’t note that the Medically Needy program is part of Medicaid.
However, he said the Medicaid expansion “will not extend coverage to a single low-income child under 18 in Florida because they are already covered, just like Peter was.”
The Medically Needy program is aimed at families that normally would be ineligible for Medicaid because of too much income or too many assets but are overwhelmied with major medical expenses.
It “provides states the option to extend Medicaid eligibility to individuals with high medical expenses whose income exceeds the maximum threshold,” according to a fact sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Other information about the program is in a fact sheet from the Florida Department of Children and Families .