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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:




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.”

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.”

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.



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.

Statewide Medicaid managed care gets fed approval

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Obama administration has approved Florida’s two-year-old request to move almost all of the state’s 3.3 million low-income, Medicaid patients into managed care programs, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Scott and leading Republican lawmakers have long contended that managed care will squeeze savings out of Medicaid, which this year absorbed $21 billion of the state’s $70 billion budget.

Although federal officials pay about 58 percent of the program, the pricetag for Florida taxpayers remains significant.

In its approval letter, CMS said Florida can begin the managed care conversion on a staggered, region-by-region basis no sooner than next January.

The Florida Legislature approved the managed care push in 2011. Earlier this year, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved moving thousands of nursing home and other long-term care patients into HMOs and other managed care programs as early as this fall.

“Florida is leading the nation in improving cost, quality and access in the Medicaid program. CMS’s final approval of our Medicaid managed care waiver is a huge win for Florida families because it will improve the coordination of care throughout the Medicaid system,” Scott said of the full-scale approval. “Healthcare providers can now more effectively manage chronic conditions and work with families to provide preventative treatments.”

Many health care advocates were wary of the state’s move, fearing it could lead to profit-seeking HMOs cutting corners in caring for low-income Floridians.

They cited problems with an Medicaid HMO pilot program begun in 2006 in five counties, including Broward, that was marked by widespread complaints from patients.

Florida CHAIN, a statewide health care advocacy organization based in Jupiter, had fought the conversion of traditional fee-for-service Medicaid to managed care programs.

On Friday, CHAIN said, “The focus now shifts to the state and its efforts to implement this program that will affect access to care for millions of patients in all 67 counties. The countless reports of disrupted, delayed and denied care streaming in from the original five counties are still very fresh in the minds of all stakeholders.”

CHAIN added, “Advocates will continue to monitor implementation and call on the Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida’s Medicaid agency, to put the needs of patients above the interests of companies with a strong financial incentive to limit care.”

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.


Scott schmoozes House floor — says plenty more possible in session’s last hours

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has been catching heat for failing to lobby hard on behalf of his call for a Medicaid expansion.

But on the second-to-last day of session, Scott went hand-to-hand with lawmakers, schmoozing his way across the House floor. The rare visit looked mostly genial — and likely included a few thank-yous to House members for approving a version of his manufacturers’ tax break late Wednesday.

Still, Scott said he was not abandoning hope that some version of a health care expansion was still possible in the session’s waning hours.

“As you know, there’s still time left in session,” Scott said earlier Thursday. “A lot of things happen the last week in session. We’ve got a little over a day left in session. So we’ll see what happens. As you know I’ve said making sure we take care of the uninsured and the legislature said no.”

From the House, Scott headed across the hall to the Senate.


Slowdown Day 2: House Democrats debate health care on every bill

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida House lurched into Day 2 of a slowdown Wednesday, initiated by Democrats angry over Republican leadership’s rejection of a plan to draw federal Medicaid dollars to provide health insurance to more than 1 million Floridians.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, advanced the session’s scheduled 9 a.m. start by an hour. And an auto-reader continued to be used to read the full text of bills before the House.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale made the rarely used procedural move Tuesday — demanding the full readings to underscore the party’s frustration. A new tactic emerged Wednesday, when Democrats began using floor debate on virtually every bill to highlight the health care expansion.

Environmental bills, water management legislation and even a measure involving the mapping and monitoring of agricultural lands seemed to remind Democrats in debate about the failed health coverage.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, was among those speaking. She grabbed her microphone to debate on an otherwise routine bill involving a state organ and tissue registry.

“Unfortunately, we’re not going to allow some people to take advantage of the organ and tissue registry because we’re not going to allow them to receive health insurance coverage,” Berman said.

House health insurance vote deepens deadlock with Senate, Scott

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The House approved its state-financed plan Friday to extend health insurance to more than 100,000 Floridians, shunning billions of dollars available from the federal government for a more ambitious effort backed by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Senate.

The House 71-45 vote broke along party lines, with Democrats opposing the measure (CS/HB 7169) as unworkable and driven by ideological opposition to President Obama’s federal health care overhaul.

The House debated the measure for six hours over two days, with many Republicans ridiculing the promise of federal dollars as unreliable. But Democrats said the House plan was useless.

“This bill is wrapped in a beautiful box,” said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. “But when you open the box…it’s filled with empty promises.”

Still, Republicans said those criticizing the legislation were missing their best chance to help low-income Floridians. With the Legislature entering its final seven days, the House and Senate have deadlocked over relying on federal Medicaid dollars to cover uninsured.

“If you vote no on this bill, you are voting to deny Floridians the opportunity to buy health insurance,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

The House proposal would extend health coverage to 115,000 parents, children and disabled Floridians living below the federal poverty line and cost state taxpayers $237 million annually.

Called Health Choices Plus, the House plan would cost low-income Floridians $300 a year, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.

A family of three earning less than $19,530 would qualify for coverage. But critics say out-of-pocket costs would prohibit many poor from taking part.

Unlike the Senate proposal, Health Choices Plus wouldn’t cover childless adults.

The Senate’s Healthy Florida would cover families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $26,300 for a family of three, along with single adults earning as much as $15,586. Like the House plan, it also would require those in the program to pay modest monthly fees and co-payments.

The Senate proposal positions Florida to receive $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade, while costing state taxpayers $3.5 billion. The House plan would cost Florida taxpayers more than $2 billion in the same period, while covering one-tenth of those without coverage.

Florida has almost 4 million uninsured residents, one of the largest populations in the nation.

The Senate plan has been praised by supporters for helping cover many low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and service industries who currently have no health insurance.

Scott this week began hinting to lawmakers that he may wield his veto pen heavily — killed coveted spending priorities, if they fail to embrace his legislative agenda.  Scott’s salesmanship on the health insurance plan, however, has been low-key.

But Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said the Republican governor should retaliate if he is sent the House health insurance proposal.

“Gov. Scott, this Legislature has failed you,” Waldman said Friday. “This House of Representatives has failed you.”

Waldman said, “You need to veto this budget and send us back here to do our job.”

Senate to House on health expansion: Let’s Make a Deal

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

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.

With House,Senate deadlocked on health care, a ‘hybrid’ is born

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

With the House and Senate divided over whether to accept federal dollars to expand health insurance for poor Floridians, Senate budget chief Joe Negron said Tuesday that he is open to finding a middle ground.

Negron, R-Stuart, is scheduled to shepherd a proposal through a Senate budget subcommittee Wednesday that relies on federal money to reposition the Florida Healthy Kids program to accept $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade.

Negron wants to create a Healthy Florida program to cover the potential 1 million uninsured adults and children who could be eligible for coverage under the Medicaid expansion allowed states by the federal Affordable Care Act.

The House and Senate have both rejected the Medicaid expansion earlier sought by Gov. Rick Scott, but the governor, Senate leaders, and most health care advocates have since signed onto the Negron proposal.

The House, however, is rejecting the federal money. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his likely successor, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, say the promise of a steady stream of federal dollars is unreliable.

Instead, House leaders are advancing a proposal that would cover only 115,000 low-income parents, children and disabled at a cost to state taxpayers of $237 million-a-year.

A similar Senate proposal by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, also is expected to be reviewed by the Senate budget panel Wednesday.

“My goal is for people to have health insurance, with them paying part of these premiums,” Negron said. “I would prefer a premium assistance program along the lines of the Senate plan. But this process requires people of good will to enter into principled agreements with the other side.”

Negron said that some sort of “hybrid” proposal — incorporating portions of his plan and the House proposal — is the only approach that will fly this session.

“I think for any plan to succeed this session, it would have to have elements of the House and Senate plans in it,” Negron said.

Although federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told states last December not to expect full federal funding with a partial expansion of Medicaid coverage, Negron said he felt federal officials will be ready to deal.

“I would think that the federal government would want the citizens of Florida to have private health insurance rather than show up at emergency rooms when it’s too late, frequently,” Negron said.

While the House plan would cover 115,000 and Negron’s approach would bring 1 million Floridians insurance coverage, the senator said it was still unknown how many the “hybrid” will insure.

Almost 4 million Floridians currently have no health insurance. Where will the hybrid land?

“Somewhere in between. It depends on where you draw the line,” Negron said.

House OKs budget plan — setting stage for homestretch dealing with Senate

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida House approved its $74.4 billion state budget Friday, setting the stage for end-of-session negotiations with the Senate over a final spending plan for 2013-14.

The House vote was 99-17, with about one-third of the Democratic caucus opposing the proposal.

Unlike recent sessions, the House and Senate budgets are relatively close, helped along by a $1 billion budget surplus which follows six years of spending reductions.

“We prioritize people, while maintaining reserves,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, who helped craft health and human services spending.

The House increases public school spending by $1 billion, or an average $395-per-student. College and university tuition would jump by 6 percent under the House plan, which also sets aside $2.6 billion in reserves.

The Senate approved its $74.3 billion proposal earlier this week on a 40-0 vote. Much of the session’s remaining three weeks will be devoted to reaching a consensus  plan for the year beginning July 1.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale criticized the House proposal for failing to embrace a Medicaid expansion that could draw $51 billion to Florida over the next decade, while costing state taxpayers no more than $3.5 billion. Another 1 million Floridians could get health insurance under the approach.

Instead, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and other ruling Republicans unveiled a health insurance proposal Thursday that would cover only about 115,000 Floridians while costing state taxpayers $237 million a year. No federal dollars would be used in the modest expansion.

Thurston said the difference means a “big elephant stands in the way,” of his supporting the House budget proposal.

“We stand with a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only do something good, but to do great things,” Thurston said.

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