Senate inches upward in health and human services spendingby John Kennedy | April 27th, 2011
House and Senate budget negotiators took early steps Wednesday toward resolving at least $3.3 billion in differences, with Senate Health and Human Services chief Joe Negron offering to boost spending for critically ill, aged and disabled Floridians, and eliminate a planned 5 percent cut to nursing homes.
“Everything in this offer reflects a priority,” said the Stuart Republican.
The Senate inched upward, offering to spend $38 million, including $13 million in state taxpayer money backed by federal dollars, on prescription drug coverage for some of the 46,000 adults in the Medically Needy program.
The Senate had earlier erased the program’s drug coverage, while maintaining physician services. But drug coverage is a vital and costly service for the transplant patients, critically ill Floridians and other hard-to-insure enrolled in the program.
The offer, which is being reviewed by House negotiators, would bring back about one-quarter of the Medically Needy program.
Similarly, Negron said the Senate also was willing to spend $45 million on the Medicaid Aged and Disabled program (Meds A/D) which the chamber earlier proposed shutting down in April. The cut would have shut off prescription drug coverage for more than 42,000 low-income elderly and disabled Floridians.
The Senate offer would cover less than one-quarter of those now served.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the House lead budget negotiator, is running the Senate proposal up the political flagpole in that chamber — and is expected to report back at midday.
Negron said that under budget allocations decided by House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the Senate can spend about $300 million more than it had earlier. The House must come down $100 million from its budget for health and human services.
With the extra cash, Negron also said the Senate was eliminating a 5 percent cut planned for nursing home payments, although hospitals and HMOs still face deeper reductions. Medicaid payments to doctors and dentists also would be increased under the Senate offer.
Budget talks between the House and Senate had been stalled for more than a week. But now they’re going to move swiftly.
Racing toward a scheduled May 6 adjournment, Cannon and Haridopolos have said any differences unsettled by Friday will be turned over to the budget conference chairmen to decide.
Issues bigger than these leaders will go to Cannon and Haridopolos a day later for final deal-cutting.