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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders March 15, 2013

Weatherford says 85 percent of people covered by Medicaid expansion are "single, childless" adults

House Speaker Will Weatherford offered a compelling personal story to emphasize his support for a robust social safety net despite his stance against expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law.

Weatherford’s parents relied on a safety net program -- he didn’t say which one in his speech on the opening day of the legislative session -- to pay medical bills for his 20-month-old brother Peter, who died from cancer.

That program, Weatherford’s father told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, was funded with Medicaid dollars. The news angered advocates of the expansion who said Weatherford wanted to deny other families relief that helped his own.

"I should have done a better job, and I take ownership of that, of having more facts before I gave my speech," Weatherford said on March 8, 2013. "But it doesn’t change my belief, which is that what we’re talking about is 85 percent of the expansion are for single, childless adults. That’s what this Medicaid expansion goes to. Single, childless adults, it puts them on a government-run system that we potentially will have to pay for."

Weatherford’s main complaint seems to be that these people are "able-bodied," as he put it (i.e. slackers).

We wanted to give Weatherford’s stat, so instrumental in his opposition to the expansion, the PolitiFact Florida treatment.

Weatherford was referring to internal figures determined by budget experts on his staff, said spokesman Ryan Duffy. But Duffy quickly acknowledged that Weatherford quoted the wrong numbers, which were derived from data supplied by the Legislature’s Social Services Estimating Conference on March 7.

The 85 percent figure Weatherford cited for "single, childless adults" was actually an estimate of all adults who would be covered if Medicaid expanded. (The House's actual estimate is 82 percent.)

How many of that group would single and childless? We don't know. The state didn't estimate that.

The closest it came was estimating the impact on childless adults. Duffy said 62 percent of those who would receive Medicaid as part of the expansion would be childless adults. (That makes sense because childless adults currently cannot receive Medicaid under any circumstances in Florida. The expansion would change that.)

We wondered what other experts know about the percentage of childless adults -- again we can't measure childless and single -- who could get Medicaid coverage under an expansion.

The state’s chief economist, Amy Baker, told us there are many ways of analyzing who could be covered by the Medicaid expansion.

Her group, the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research, identified a pool of 1,079,337 potential Medicaid beneficiaries using public microdata from the American Community Survey. Of that pool, 87 percent were adults 19 and over. Childless adults comprise 67 percent of beneficiaries, Baker said. Non-disabled childless adults (excluding 19- and 20-year-olds) would be 61.8 percent.

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The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, which supports the expansion, came up with its own breakdown of who would benefit from the expansion. By the center’s calculations, about 58 percent of the newly eligible would be childless adults.

We should note the center uses a larger pool of newly eligible enrollees than Baker’s group, about 1.3 million people. The center offers a deeper dive into that population: About 22 percent are childless adults who do not have jobs. About 25 percent represent childless workers. The other 10 percent is comprised of young adults age 19-25 and the disabled. (There was not a way to extract the disabled from the center's calculations.)

"This is NOT the number of newly eligible adults that we think would actually enroll in Medicaid," said Greg Mellowe, FCEFP director of health research and analysis. "In fact, not all of those who appear to be eligible based on income will even qualify due to other factors such as immigration status."

So what about our ruling? We know Weatherford’s assertion that 85 percent of the expansion’s beneficiaries would be childless adults is wrong. (He later corrected the number in an op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times.)

The number should have been, by the House’s calculation, 62 percent. Weatherford, however, erred additionally by referring to only "single" adults. No one measures that.

Weatherford is off on his number and his characterization.

Yet, the statement contains an element of truth in that Medicaid is expected to benefit childless adults more than any other population.

We rate his claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Interview with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, March 8, 2013

Interview with Ryan Duffy, Florida House spokesman, March 8-11, 2013

Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, "Economic Analysis of PPACA and Medicaid Expansion," March 4, 2013

Email interview with Leah Barber-Heinz, spokeswoman for Florida CHAIN, March 11, 2013

Interview with Greg Mellowe, Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy director of health research, March 11, 2013

Florida Department of Children and Families, Medicaid page, accessed March 11, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Medicaid program helped Will Weatherford after all, he admits," March 6, 2013

Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy, breakdown of Florida adults who would be newly eligible under Medicaid expansion, accessed March 11, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Can Florida afford to say no to Medicaid expansion?" July 20, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, "Column: Medicaid expansion not in Florida’s best interest," March 13, 2013

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Weatherford says 85 percent of people covered by Medicaid expansion are "single, childless" adults

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