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Clinton pitches Obamacare as stimulus for budding filmmakers, artists, Internet entrepreneurs

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 by George Bennett

Hillary Clinton at the University of Miami on Wednesday night (AP Photo/J Pat Carter).

CORAL GABLES — Hillary Clinton encouraged college students to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, saying Wednesday that the health care law “liberates” people from being stuck in jobs they don’t like and will allow them “to go try your hand at filmmaking or an Internet start-up or be an artist.”

The potential Democratic presidential candidate’s remarks were slammed by the Republican National Committee in a sure sign that skirmishing in the 2016 battle for the White House has already begun.

Clinton spoke for an undisclosed fee to a crowd of 6,100 at the University of Miami and fielded written audience questions read to her by University President Donna Shalala, a friend and former Bill Clinton cabinet secretary.

Persuading young, healthy adults to sign up for health insurance is a key to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and Shalala asked Clinton to “make the case to these ‘invincibles’ for why they should care that everybody has health insurance in the United States.”


The Hug, part II: GOP links Crist and Obama, again

Monday, December 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican Party said Monday it is spending what it claims to be six-figures in cash on a new web and digital ad blasting former Gov. Charlie Crist’s support for the Affordable Care Act.

With a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing Floridians opposed so-called Obamacare by 54-39 percent, Republicans are looking to lash the ex-Republican turned Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner to the White House, again.

A narrator in the 30-second spot says, “Charlie Crist stands with Obama,” and a sampling of TV sound bytes are shown in which Crist pledges support for the the federal health care law.

In his 2010 bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, eventual winner Marco Rubio enflamed conservative opposition to Crist, then a Republican, by airing TV spots showing the governor hugging President Obama at a February 2009 town hall meeting in Florida.

“Charlie Crist’s unwavering support of Obamacare and its disastrous effects…is alarming,” said Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry.  “Plain and simple, Florida cannot afford Charlie Crist and the liberal Obama agenda.”

Here’s the ad:




Crist says Obamacare ‘plan is a good one,’ calls Scott ‘tea party governor’

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 by George Bennett

Crist greets Greyhound bus driver Mike Wilson of Orlando at the train station in West Palm Beach today.

WEST PALM BEACH — President Barack Obama and his signature health care law may be plummeting in the polls, but Charlie Crist didn’t hesitate to embrace both when meeting with reporters today.

Crist even threw in a plug for the 2009 stimulus bill that contributed to the unraveling of his 2010 Senate bid.

“I’m sorry to see the rollout and how it went and I think everybody agrees with that. There are glitches many times when something that’s really big comes along,” Crist said of the health care law’s bumpy debut.

“But I also know this, that the plan is a good one. I support what the president is trying to do. He’s trying to bring affordable health care to millions of our fellow Floridians.”

Crist, the former Republican governor who’s now seeking his old job as a Democrat, will attend a Palm Beach fundraiser hosted by actor George Hamilton tonight. He met with reporters this afternoon at the train station near downtown, using the venue to criticize Republican Gov. Rick Scott for refusing federal money for high-speed rail in 2011.

Crist, who called Scott “a tea party governor,” also slammed the incumbent for failing to push for an expansion of Medicaid in the state this year after declaring his support for it.


Scott says Obama was “deceitful” on insurance coverage

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Most Americans who have successfully enrolled in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act have done so through exchanges organized by 11 states  and not through  the balky federal website.

But Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he has no regrets that Florida did not create its own exchange — even though it may be costing residents access to health insurance.

“Remember, this was the president’s health care bill,” Scott said. “He decided to get this bill passed. He’s responsible for the adverse impact. Three hundred thousand people are losing their insurance at the end of the year.

“Look at what’s going to happen. Cost is going to go up. Quality is going to go down. It’s the president’s responsibility,” Scott concluded.

Scott’s claim about 300,000 people losing insurance apparently disregards the rule change announced last week by the Obama administration that allows insurers to extend current health coverage into next year.

Florida Blue, the big insurer, earlier warned that 300,000 Floridians could have been without coverage — but now will maintain existing policies through 2014.

The Republican governor fought the Affordable Care Act before it became law. But earlier this year, Scott seemed to soften that opposition by endorsing a key feature of the measure — calling for the state to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

Scott’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature, however, refused to go along.

Since then, Scott has been toughening his rhetoric. And on Tuesday, he said Obama was “deceitful” when the president assured Americans that their existing coverage was not at risk.

“He was deceitful when he said that if you like your insurance you will not lose it,” Scott said. “What people are not thinking about is that…we have people losing their insurance. We know under that bill, the cost of health care is going to go up and we know that quality is going to be impacted. It’s a bad bill and it needs to be repealed.”

Crist calls Obamacare ‘the right thing to do,’ said in 2010 it was ‘off the charts…wrong’

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 by George Bennett

With the federal health care law tanking in the polls, the Republican Party of Florida is pouncing on Democratic governor candidate Charlie Crist‘s recent statements that he supports the law.

Here’s a GOP-circulated clip of Crist telling MSNBC’s Ed Schultz Monday that he “won’t shy away from it. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

He made similar comments recently to the Naples Daily News.

But as a no-party Senate candidate in 2010, Crist said during a debate: “I think that Obamacare was off the charts, was wrong, it taxed too much, has mandates that are probably unconstitutional and it’s not the way to go. And it was rammed through.”

Crist’s response begins around the 9:05 mark in the video below:

President Barack Obama and Democrats have come to embrace the term “Obamacare,” but at the time Crist used it in 2010, it was considered derogatory and Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek criticized Crist for using it, beginning around the 11:30 mark on the video.

Sheldon challenging Bondi for Attorney General on “character” issue

Monday, October 21st, 2013 by John Kennedy

A former top deputy under Bob Butterworth, Florida’s last Democratic attorney general, announced Monday that he will challenge Republican Pam Bondi next year.

George Sheldon, who recently stepped down as an assistant secretary in the Obama administrations’ Health and Human Services Dept., said he plans to return “character” to the attorney general’s office.

“Taking on predatory lenders, human traffickers, and those who engage in deceptive practices is the job of the Attorney General…not working full time trying to deny health insurance to children and anyone with preexisting conditions,” Sheldon said.

“This race is about character.  Who has the experience and character to use the office of attorney general for general good rather than as a personal, political, partisan platform,” he added.

Bondi spearheaded the lawsuit brought by two-dozen states unsuccessfully seeking to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  She also recently caught heat for rescheduling a planned execution because it conflicted with a fund-raiser heralding the kickoff of her re-election campaign.

Sheldon served as Florida’s Department of Children & Families secretary under then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist, now a Democrat, is likely to run for governor and share next year’s ballot with Sheldon.

Sheldon earlier was deputy attorney general under Butterworth and is a former state representative. He sought the nomination for attorney general in 2002, finishing third behind current Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Dyer lost to Crist that year.

Bondi’s campaign said the incumbent was ready for the challenge.

“As Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi has fought hard to defend and protect the people by making Florida a zero tolerance state for pill mills, taking on human trafficking, and pursuing consumer relief from both, mortgage and Medicaid fraud, ” said Pablo Diaz, Bondi’s campaign manager.

“Pam Bondi and George Sheldon have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates.,” he added.


Fast food industry carries supersized cost for Fla taxpayers, report says

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A new study shows that the fast-food industry costs Florida taxpayers $348 million-a-year because low-wages paid workers and their families qualify for a range of public assistance programs.

The University of California-Berkeley findings show low wages in the burger-and-fries trade contribute to $7 billion in public costs nationwide. Florida ranks fifth in the nation in public costs behind California, Texas, New York and Illinois.

According to Berkeley researchers, 55 percent of Florida’s 115,000 fast-food workers participate in such programs as Medicaid, food stamps and the federal earned income tax credit.

“The taxpayer costs we discovered were staggering,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education and coauthor of the report. “People who work in fast-food jobs are paid so little that having to rely on public assistance is the rule, rather than the exception, even for those working 40 hours or more a week.”

Researchers found the median wage for front-line workers at fast-food restaurants nationally is $8.69 an hour. Only 13 percent of the jobs provide health benefits.

Florida has the nation’s second largest uninsured population — roughly 3.8 million people. Many of Florida’s uninsured are low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and other service industries.

Health care activists and advocates for low-income Floridians have been pushing Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to expand Medicaid, an option under the Affordable Care Act that would cover an additional 1.1 million Floridians. But the effort seems to have lost momentum, with Florida among 26 states refusing to expand.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has led the opposition, saying Florida can’t rely on federal promises to pay the bulk of the expansion cost.

The Berkeley report is here:







Obamacare site frozen

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by Laura Green

At 11:30 a.m., I could get into the site and was able to create a login. But now that I am trying to choose my security questions, the options on the pull down menu are blank.

Since launching around midnight, there have been problems with, the site where Americans are supposed to be able to sign up, for the first time today, for new plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Most states, like Florida, opted to have the federal government run their online marketplace. But even states that launched their own are having problems or seem locked up today. Sites for Maryland, Oregon and California each were down at some point today.

President Barack Obama warned about potential problems in an interview with NPR.

“There will be a 6-month enrollment period,” he said. “In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches. This is 50 states, a lot of people signing up for something, and there are going to be problems,” Obama said.

This morning, consumers received a “please wait” message or one that told them the system was down.

The problem could be a sign that Americans have flocked to the site in search of affordable insurance. Or it could indicate something much more basic: technical problems have paralyzed the site.

The Department of Health and Human Services put out this statement: “We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience. This new system will allow millions of Americans to access quality, affordable health care coverage – without underwriting. Consumers who need help can also contact the call center, use the live chat function, or go to to find an in-person assister in their community.”

The website directs people to telephone assistance. The federal government offers 24-hour help at 1-800-318-2596.

The website is

Hudson tells Congress expanding Medicaid a “flawed approach”

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

With some advocates pushing the Republican-led Legislature to revisit expanding Medicaid, the House’s health care budget chairman testified Wednesday before Congress that the idea represents a “flawed approach.”

Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, was among officials from several states who spoke on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and concerns it is raising.

Hudson also defended the Florida House’s rejection earlier this year of expanding Medicaid to cover those who may not be able to afford health insurance even under so-called ObamaCare.

“Fundamentally, I believe the Medicaid expansion is a flawed approach to reduce the number of uninsured residents in Florida,” Hudson told a joint meeting of two U.S. House committees.

“Rather than temporary assistance targeted to our most vulnerable residents, the optional Medicaid expansion would have created a new entitlement for able-bodied, working age adults without children,” he added.

Florida has about 4 million uninsured, one of the largest populations in the nation. About 1.1 million were expected to be able to gain coverage — financed totally by the federal government for the first three years — under the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

“Expanding Medicaid to more than a million new individuals would undoubtedly make access problems worse,” Hudson testified.  “And those who would suffer most would be our most vulnerable residents, including our elderly population and those with disabilities. They would be forced to compete with able-bodied adults for a limited number of appointments.”

Women voters and business groups urge another look at Medicaid expansion

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Even as Gov. Rick Scott is setting up what critics call obstacles in the path of the Affordable Care Act, some advocates Tuesday began a push for Florida lawmakers to revisit the idea of expanding Medicaid coverage for the state’s poorest residents.

The League of Women Voters of Florida joined with Tampa-area companies and business associations to urge legislators to consider the economic benefits of providing health insurance to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who still may not qualify or be able to pay for coverage when the federal plan takes effect Jan. 1.

“This makes good business sense for our hospitals by reducing the amount of emergency care they would need to provide for the unisured and it would also help stabilize business health insurance premiums by reducing the need to pass along those costs,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Scott, who earlier this year endorsed the Medicaid expansion, but stood by as the Florida House rejected the approach, has lately raised alarms about the work by “navigators” informing Floridians of their health care options when online marketplaces begin offering insurance Oct. 1.

But Deirdre Macnab, president of the league, said her organization is looking to push more business supporters forward in coming months. She wants the Legislature to revisit expansion next spring.

“No doubt, there will be many bumps on the road,” when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act, Mcnab said. “But hopefully, the Florida Legislature will pay attention to the business community and the citizens of this state.”

Scott takes case against navigators to Congress

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged congressional leaders Monday to review federal privacy rules as “navigators” fan out across the state to educate consumers about new health coverage options under the Affordable Care Act.

Scott, who fought the federal law even before it cleared Congress in 2010, acknowledged in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the measure is “now the law of the land.”

But Scott said “we are increasingly concerned about how the implementation of the law will affect Floridians.”

“I respectfully request you take immediate action by whatever means available to thoroughly review what privacy rules and safeguards are in place to protect Americans’ personal information, both when they consult with “navigators” and when their information is entered into the federal data hub,” Scott said in his letter.

Scott and other opponents of the law have repeatedly questioned whether navigators will know enough to direct people toward the appropriate insurance coverage and whether they can be trusted with the personal data shared by consumers seeking help.

Federal health and human services officials have said background checks are being conducted on workers hired as navigators and they also must agree to follow ethics policies.

Florida CHAIN leader leaves for new advocacy role

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Laura Goodhue, head of a Jupiter-based health advocacy organization working to link Floridians with insurers under the Affordable Care Act, is leaving for a new South Florida agency.

Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN for almost six years, will join Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast as vice president of public policy and communications.

Florida CHAIN last month received a $125,000 grant to serve as a Affordable Care Act “navigator” to run public education efforts for consumers and small employers in advance of the Oct. 1 opening of Florida’s federally-operated online marketplace for those seeking insurance.

In a statement, Florida CHAIN said of Goodhue, “Her leadership and dogged dedication has made a critical difference in the lives of Florida’s hard-working families.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with Laura as we collaboratively educate Florida’s families about the upcoming marketplace and advocate for the expansion of Medicaid.”

Once a leading Obamacare foe, Scott on sidelines for Rubio’s defunding effort

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by George Bennett

PALM BEACH — Gov. Rick Scott, once a leading national opponent of the federal health care law, is remaining on the sidelines while Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and other conservatives lead a “defund Obamacare” push.

In a Wednesday appearance on CNN and a later interview with The Palm Beach Post, Scott didn’t directly answer whether he supports the efforts by Rubio, Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others to derail the health care law by cutting off federal money for it before the new budget year begins Oct. 1.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he supports Rubio’s and Cruz’s efforts, Scott said: “Well Jake, here’s what we know. Obamacare is going to cause a lot of problems. It’s not a good law. I didn’t support it. They’re going to have to figure out how they’re going to make sure they replace it with something that improves quality, access, reduces the cost. So, however they do that is the right thing to do. The federal Congress has got to figure out how to get that done. I hope it’s done.”


Advocates blast Scott for fanning fear of ObamaCare

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by John Kennedy

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act pushed back Wednesday against Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Cabinet members who a day earlier raised concerns that the privacy of uninsured Floridians could be compromised when they sign-up this fall for health coverage.

“The governor of a state with more than 4 million uninsured should not be discouraging people from getting care,” said Monica Russo of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is assisting non-profit organizations contracted with federal authorities as “navigators” in getting the word out about enrollment beginning Oct. 1.

Nick Duran, the Florida director for Enroll America, which is leading the effort, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that surveys show 55 percent of uninsured Floridians are unaware of the enrollment requirement.

Meanwhile, the Republican-ruled Florida state government has taken few steps to advance enrollment, advocates said. Florida had earlier spearheaded an unsuccessful legal campaign by two-dozen states looking to block the Affordable Care Act from taking effect.

“We have not had much help from the state, to tell you the truth,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization that will receive federal grant money as a navigator. “It’d be helpful if they got the word out.”

By contrast, Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater raised concerns at a Cabinet meeting in Miami on Tuesday, warning that the enrollment process could lead to privacy violations and identity theft affecting many low-income Floridians.

Bondi also is among 13 Republican state attorneys general who last week demanded that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius answer questions about the navigator program.

“Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate,” Scott said. “It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused.”

Advocates say that many of the nonprofits doing the outreach already contract with the state for various programs. State legislators during the 2013 session approved a health law (SB 1842) that requires navigators hired in Florida to be registered with the state, be U.S. citizens or legal aliens and undergo background checks by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Bondi bashes Obamacare with FOX friends

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined FOX News “Fox & Friends” host Gretchen Carlson early this morning for the latest round of Obamacare-bashing.

Bondi, a former contributor to FOX News and frequent guest on the conservative network since her 2010 election, was asked about the latest twist in the federal health care law that spurred an outcry from Republicans.

President Obama’s administration announced on Friday it was delaying requirements that state-run health care insurance exchanges verify applicants’ eligibility for subsidized health care coverage.

Bondi railed against the HHS delay of the verification for eligibility. But the new rule won’t affect Florida because the state is not running its own exchange. Just 16 states and the District of Columbia chose to set up their own marketplaces. Like Florida, nearly every other state has defaulted to the federal government’s exchange.

“Here, now, we have nothing to prevent fraud. Anyone can come and say that they qualify for this and there’s absolutely no verification,” Bondi, a Republican, told Carlson.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would delay the required random checks for eligibility for a year. The online exchanges are supposed to go up on Oct. 1, and individuals are slated to begin purchasing insurance through them by Jan. 1.

Bondi took over a multi-state lawsuit led by Florida against the Obama administration over the health care law after she took office in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law last year but ruled that states do not have to participate in an expansion of Medicaid that was a key portion of the federal law. Florida lawmakers opted this year not to expand the federal-state health care program for the poor. The expansion would have covered about 1 million uninsured Floridians.

The fact that the new regulation won’t impact Florida didn’t diminish Bondi’s outrage.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” she said. “I’m not going to say everybody’s going to commit fraud…
I would hope they wouldn’t. But we’ve opened something up that is vulnerable and invites fraud. That’s what frightens all of us. It’s going to be difficult for the IRS to verify. It’s going to be difficult for state authorities to verify. It’s just one more example of what a mess this federal takeover has become.”

Employer mandate delay upends strategy for Florida Medicaid advocates

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Obama administration’s decision to delay for a year the requirement that large employers provide health insurance to their workers likely ended any hopes Florida Democrats had of expanding Medicaid coverage in the near future to low-income residents.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, who rallied House Republicans behind rejecting the expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act, said that postponing the employer mandate until 2015 affirmed his fear that the federal government was unreliable in the health care expansion.

“Count on more reversals, changes & unraveling of ObamaCare,” Weatherford posted on Twitter following the announcement. “ There is no way the Feds can make good on their promises.”

By Wednesday, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was joining in a Republican chorus calling for the repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. “ObamaCare should not simply be delayed, but repealed,” Weatherford tweeted.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also was among state Republicans ready to reverse course.

The stance was more of a departure for Negron. The Senate budget chief spearheaded an effort this spring that would have expanded health coverage to  1.1 million more low-income residents and been fully financed by federal dollars its first three years.

Negron’s plan also would have positioned Florida for $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade.

With the federal mandate lifted for a year, Negron said told The Palm Beach Post, “Businesses in Florida now have one more year to understand and try to implement the law and maybe persuade Congress to revisit the entire law.”

He added, “Maybe this is time to start making a persuasive argument to start over from scratch.”

The administration’s decision to tap the brakes on requiring employers with 50 or more workers to begin offering health coverage by January also blunts a campaign already underway by Florida Democrats looking to draw more support for Medicaid expansion.

The Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation is going ahead with a planned July 15 town hall meeting at the county Governmental Center on the Affordable Care Act and rallying support for expanding Medicaid.

But delegation chairman, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, acknowledged Wednesday that the one-year delay, “definitely slows things down.”

“The positive thing is that the administration took to heart the concerns the business community was having,” Pafford said. “There always will be changes in a big plan like this and there still will be questions.

“But you have to remember, people would have been in much better shape if we had already gone ahead with the Medicaid expansion,” Pafford said.

He called Weatherford’s lashing out at the Affordable Care Act “amateurish.”

Like the Palm Beach delegation, Broward County lawmakers held a town hall last month to emphasize the positives of having more of the state’s almost 4 million uninsured gain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The effort also was aimed at fanning the hopes of supporters disappointed by the Florida Legislature’s failure to approve some version of Medicaid expansion to cover Floridians expected to fall through the cracks of the federal health care overhaul.

Many advocates for the poor have joined with hospitals and some business associations in urging lawmakers to revisit the issue as early as this fall in a special session.

Some expected business groups to step-up their demand for the state and federal governments to cover more low-income residents as the employer mandate neared. Employers, advocates said, would welcome the state and federal government  providing more coverage options to low-income workers with jobs, saving companies some expense.

The Medicaid expansion also was seen as drawing business support because it was seen as reducing the overall cost of providing insurance.

But that strategy now looks out the window.

“At this point, we would hope that businesses would still want to do the right thing and make sure they offer insurance to their workers,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization based in Jupiter.

“Businesses also have to remember that 2015 isn’t that far away. They can’t put these actions off forever,” she said.



Murphy on Obamacare employer mandate delay: no time for ‘new uncertainty, taxes, or costly mandates’

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by George Bennett


Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who campaigned last year as a supporter of the federal health care law, says he’s “pleased” with President Barack Obama‘s decision to delay for one year the requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide health insurance to their workers.

In a statement released this morning, Murphy seems to echo Republican criticism of Obamacare as a drag on business.

“Our businesses are leading the way in economic growth and job creation as we continue to struggle to climb out of the recession. Just when the recovery is starting to take hold does not mean that we should be adding new uncertainty, taxes, or costly mandates to sectors of our economy that can least afford it,” Murphy’s statement says.


Medicaid expansion the subject of South Florida town halls

Monday, June 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Broward County legislators Tuesday will gather health care providers, business groups and a few Democrats still stinging from the Legislature’s rejection of a push to expand Medicaid to 1.1 million low-income Floridians under the Affordable Care Act.

A town hall meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center’s county commission chambers. A similar event is planned for July 15 in West Palm Beach at the county governmental center and hosted by the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation.

The Florida Senate advanced a plan aimed at drawing billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, but the House endorsed a sharply scaled back version that relied solely on state taxpayer funding.

“Hardworking Floridians who cannot afford basic health insurance will continue to be denied the care they deserve,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chair of the Broward delegation. Meanwhile, the town halls are designed to rally support for an eventual state embrace of the Medicaid expansion, along with readying Floridians for when the full Affordable Care Act kicks in next January.



Health care advocates warn that not expanding Medicaid will hurt business

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s economy will slump if the state Legislature fails to embrace some version of Medicaid expansion, advocates and business analysts warned Wednesday.

The League of Women Voters in Florida and the Florida Health Care Coalition added to a rising wave of summertime drumbeating by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, warning that not extending health coverage to poor Floridians will darken the state’s business climate.

“We’re really working hard to educate everyone that Medicaid is good for individuals, for employers…good for the economy and good for the state budget,” said Karen Van Caulil, president of the Florida Health Care Coalition.

State legislators from Broward and Palm Beach counties have scheduled town hall sessions in coming weeks on health care and the effort to expand Medicaid coverage.

Also, an outreach campaign begins stumping this coming weekend in low-income neighborhoods in Miami and Orlando, as part of the campaign to promote the president’s health care law.

The Legislature ended the 2013 session last month failing to reach agreement on expanding Medicaid. But advocates have been clamoring for lawmakers to revisit the issue, possibly in a special session this fall.  But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, however, has said nothing has changed to ease his chamber’s opposition to a big expansion.

The business card has been played by supporters before. But Wednesday in a conference call with reporters, advocates again warned that by refusing federal dollars for care, lawmakers were missing an opportunity to jolt the state’s economy.

Also, Bill Kramer, a director at the Pacific Business Group on Health, said a “cost shift” already present in Florida will expand as those with insurance have to contribute to covering a large portion of the population without coverage.

Deirdre Macnab, league president, likened it to “quicksand” for Florida businesses.

“This is something the state simply cannot afford as we begin to rebound from recession,” Macnab said.

Nelson urges Scott to veto insurance rate bill

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto legislation his fellow Republicans advanced that suspends for two years the state’s authority to set health insurance rates.

Nelson, a former state insurance commissioner, said in a Wednesday letter to Scott that allowing the bill (SB 1842) to become law would put consumers at risk of sky-high rate hikes.

“To eliminate the Florida insurance commissioner’s authority to turn down rate increases is unbelievable and unconscionable.”  Nelson wrote.

Nelson’s criticism echoes that raised during the session by legislative Democrats who said the legislation appeared designed to shield state regulators from any fallout stemming from the Affordable Care Act. Among them would be Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a Republican and former Senate president from North Palm Beach, whose office oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Proponents of the legislation, however, said it is merely aimed at helping the state comply with evolving regulatory requirements under the federal health care overhaul.

Group or individual health plans in place in 2010 will still be subject to rate review by state regulators, under SB 1842. But the host of new coverage options expected to be created when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January will have rates controlled by federal agencies, although Atwater’s office will still review the proposals.

When the proposal was advanced in the Legislature, Republicans insisted they were not trying to shift blame for any problems that could rise from the influx of coverage plans and new companies.

They said that since the federal government has been imposing so many new regulations on the state, it made sense that federal officials do the rate-setting.

“This is not changing the consumer tradition of this state,” Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said at a House hearing last month. “But it is giving us
flexibility to understand a changing landscape.”

Democrats have been angered by the Republican-ruled Legislature’s long reluctance to enact provisions of the Affordable Care Act. They also said the new measure will give consumers the runaround in dealing with any issue with health insurance rates.

“We can do better for consumers,” said Rep. Jose Rodriquez, D-Miami, said during the April hearing.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act continue to criticize the Legislature’s move.

“Senate Bill 1842 brings bad news for Florida consumers in at least two distinct ways: it deregulates health insurance at the state level, putting consumers at risk; and, it sets up ACA to be blamed for Florida’s irresponsibility,” said the Jupiter-based health advocacy group, FloridaCHAIN.

Scott has until June 5 to act on the legislation.


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