Senate to House on health expansion: Let’s Make a Dealby John Kennedy | April 17th, 2013
A Senate budget panel Wednesday approved Sen. Joe Negron’s plan to draw billions of dollars in federal money to expand health coverage to 1.1 million low-income Floridians.
But Negron also offered an olive branch to fellow Republicans in the House — who so far have shunned the federal dollars. Negron, R-Stuart, said he wants lawmakers to not only approve his sweeping Healthy Florida plan, but also the scaled-back approach favored by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.
“I think there may be a way we could move forward with something that accomplishes both of our goals,” Negron told the House Health and Human Services budget subcommittee.
The panel OK’d Negron’s legislation (SB 1816) 13-0, with lawmakers from both parties praising the bill — and the dealmaking strategy with a scheduled less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session.
Negron said he envisions lawmakers approving both his proposal and the dramatically smaller House Health Choices Plus plan that covers 115,000 parents, children and disabled Floridians — but not childless adults. As Negron pitched it to the Senate committee, Floridians would have a choice to take his plan or the House program.
A Senate plan by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, which incorporates much of the House approach, also was approved by the committee on a narrower, 6-4 vote. Senate Republicans said it was important to have all options available as the session hurtles toward the finish line.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned that stance.
“It’s like trying to take two dates to the prom,” Montford said. “You don’t do that where I’m from.”
Montford also cautioned that twin plans — big and little — would give House members the impression the Senate was willing to settle for less.
The House didn’t immediately react. But senators from both parties Wednesday did their best to sell Negron’s plan.
“It’s not about politics. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami. “It’s about the health care of Floridians.”
Negron’s Healthy Florida plan would build on Healthy Kids, a program created under late-Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles that serves 250,000 children, aged 5-18.
Parents pay $15-$20 monthly for health coverage for their children and 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 also allow the adults who could be eligible under the health care law option that provides more money to states expanding Medicaid to families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level. That would add about 1.1 million adults and children in Florida.
Florida stands to draw $51 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years through an expansion, while state taxpayers would pay $3.5 billion. The federal government would fully finance the first three years, if Negron’s plan wins approval from the Obama administration.
By contrast, the House proposal would cost Florida taxpayers $237 million annually. But since it doesn’t draw any federal dollars, it could be enacted without review by Washington — although Negron’s deal might change even that.
The House plan would cost low-income Floridians $25-a-month, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions. Negron, however, indicated that financing was likely not enough — and that maybe federal dollars could be added to the program.