During a town hall held today to discuss the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Florida, health advocates continued to express disapproval of the state’s rejection of millions of dollars in federal health grants.

Anton Gunn, the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in today’s event hosted by Florida CHAIN that the state has already been awarded millions in federal grants: money for prevention, primary care, community health centers and public health infrastructure, to name a few.

However, the state has missed out on millions of dollars because the Legislature has rejected money that was awarded through the Affordable Care Act. The state has also failed to apply for many other grants it was eligible for, he said.

Florida is currently leading the legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act. Policy-makers have cited the challenge as the reason they have continually rejected funds from the federal government.

Advocates say the amount of money Florida has lost out on so far is almost incalculable.

“There has been a leadership problem in the state,” Gunn explained. “And when I say ‘leadership,’ I mean the governor’s office.”

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said that she was upset that her colleagues in the GOP-led Legislture were turning away the grants. “That’s taxpayer money from Floridians coming back to the state,” she explained. “I just want us to get our fair share.”

Karen Woodall from the Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says that Florida has “rejected millions of dollars,” so far.

Woodall also explains that Florida is one of the few states actively avoiding grants from the federal government. Florida has decided not to apply for grants that would help consumers and expand the state’s Medicaid program, she explained.

“Other states that are part of the health reform lawsuit are applying for grants,” she said. “Even Kansas has been awarded millions in grants.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to turn down millions is ” very unfortunate for citizens of Florida.” She told a reporter for iVillage that Scott was an example of “newly elected officials on the Republican side that have decided that their political ideology is more important than anything — more important than the health needs of their citizens, more important than the economic stability of the economy, more important than the future of jobs in America.”

“It is very troubling for someone to suggest that they will not accept the resources that Congress wisely put forward so that states could really become the implementers of [the Affordable Care Act],” she said.

In 2010, Florida had the third highest percentage of residents without insurance, according to the most recent U.S. Census. The 2010 Census information (.xls) finds that in a three-year average from 2008 to 2010, Florida’s percentage of uninsured people was 20.7 percent. The national average for uninsured citizens was 15.6 percent.

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