Senate’s Healthy Florida takes shapeby John Kennedy | March 21st, 2013
A Senate panel rolled out plans Thursday for Healthy Florida — a program that would cover the 1 million low-income Floridians who would have been eligible for health coverage under the now-rejected Medicaid expansion.
Senate and House Republicans have already refused Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation that Florida expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
But Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says that Healthy Florida would cover the same needy population and be fully financed by the federal government for three years.
“We want to have a Florida plan, not a Washington plan,” Negron told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The legislation (SPB 7038) could get its first committee vote next week. It won support Thursday from the Florida Hospital Association and other health care advocates and likely sets in motion an end-of-session duel with the House over health coverage.
Florida stands to draw $51 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years if it expands Medicaid to cover Floridians up to 138 percent of poverty. State taxpayers would pay $3.5 billion for the health care support.
While Negron rejected the expansion, he is clearly open to gaining federal support. By contrast, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has spent more time ridiculing the federal government — while not yet ruling out taking the federal cash.
Indeed, senators spent some time Thursday praising the Healthy Florida plan — urging the House to support it.
“We’re all working together,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. “We need to find a solution to bring the House along.”
The Healthy Florida plan builds on Healthy Kids, the program created under late-Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, which serves 250,000 children, aged 5-18. Parents pay $15-$20 monthly for health coverage. Families can choose from at least a couple of private health plans available in each of Florida’s 67 counties.
Negron would reposition Healthy Kids to accept the potential 1 million adults and children who could be eligible under the Medicaid expansion.
Negron assured the Senate panel Thursday that lengthy review by the Obama administration is unnecessary and that Healthy Florida is almost certain to win approval.
Senators said the fortified program — which Sobel called “Healthy Kids on steroids” — would require patients to pay some kind of fee.
Karen Woodall, who lobbies for organizations that help low-income Floridians, said even modest fees can discourage low-income Floridians from seeking health care for themselves or their children.
But Negron said the $2 fees Healthy Florida envisions charging for many routine services would not stop people from seeing a doctor or going to the hospital when they’re sick.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said it didn’t make sense for lawmakers to be considering rejecting federal money. If that was the case, he said opponents should also turn back federal dollars for transportation and other needed services.
“For this Senate, we are going to have a plan,” Gardiner said. “And Sen. Negron, you have given us the blueprint for that plan.”