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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.”

Scott keeps calm, carries on, despite priorities adrift

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is being challenged by top lawmakers on his pitch for low-income health insurance and the lone issues he’s labeled legislative priorities — tax breaks and teacher pay.

But Scott Tuesday declined to bad mouth anyone, as the session lurches into its final two weeks.

About as threatening Scott got was in delivering a veiled hint that he’d veto the priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, which include revamping campaign finance laws and ethics changes.

But, Scoff quickly added, “I’ve been very clear…Everybody can have a successful session.”

Weatherford looms as Scott’s biggest obstacle, refusing to embrace his health insurance plan and allowing the governor’s tax break package to proceed at a glacial pace. The governor tried to use logic in convincing the House.

“We don’t have a choice about the taxes that are part of the president’s health law,” Scott said of the federal health care overhaul. “We do have a choice whether we cover individuals that today don’t have health care. I believe that while the federal government pays 100 percent, we should cover those who don’t have access to health care.”

Scott said he didn’t think he had to flex his muscles.

“The Senate president and speaker of the House know exactly where I stand on this, and I’m very hopeful that they’ll do the right thing,” he concluded.

The House has rejected a call by Scott and the Senate to enact a Healthy Florida plan that could draw billions of federal dollars to insure 1.1 million low-income Floridians. Instead, the House has recommended a more modest proposal that uses $247 million of state taxpayer dollars next year to cover 115,000 uninsured Floridians.

Scott, did, however, get slightly worked up over the House’s push for a 6 percent tuition increase for college and university students. Scott and the Senate have rejected that approach.

“I can’t believe that the House wants to increase tuition 6 percent,” Scott said. “Florida families can’t afford it….every time they raise tuition, which they’ve done for five straight years, it impacts the poorest families in our state and their ability to go to college.”

Later, Gaetz said he endorsed Scott’s handling of the delicate end-game negotiations with the House and Senate.

“I think it’s been a good approach….If he were all over us all the time, pounding away repetitively, redundantly on his issues, we’d be saying ‘he’s too heavy handed,” Gaetz said.

“I think the governor proposes, the Legislature disposes,” Gaetz added. “There’s no lack of clarity about where the governor stands at all.”

Confusion as Scott cedes control of health exchanges to feds

Friday, July 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s insistence that he will not implement the state health insurance exchanges mandated under the federal health care law doesn’t mean Florida won’t have one.

Instead, it most likely means the federal government will have control over Florida’s exchanges, including how they will operate, what benefits insurers will have to offer and who gets to sell the policies.

While Scott has spent much of the last week on national television and radio attacking the federal health-care program recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida Senate leaders have been working on a plan to not only implement the exchanges but to expand Medicaid, which Scott also said the state will refuse to do.

It all adds up to confusion over what Florida will do and, at least for now, points to likely federal control.

Scott, who says the government can’t run anything better or cheaper than private businesses do, cut his political teeth fighting President Obama’s health care law before it was even passed by Congress in 2010.

And he stepped up his campaign against the law on national television in the days since the high court issued its ruling last week.

“What has the government ever provided cheaper?” Scott asked Fox News host Greta Van Susteren last week. “They don’t. They always overpromise and underdeliver.”

Scott’s distrust of the federal government makes his decision to cede the state’s power to the White House – regardless of who’s occupying it – all the more curious.

Read the full story here.

Senate panel keeps cheap health insurance for state lawmakers

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Joe Negron wants Florida legislators to pay as much for their health insurance as their employees do. But a majority of his colleagues on the Senate Budget Committee voted to keep the perk after arguing that it helps allow regular folks to serve in office.

Negron filed an amendment that would have hiked lawmakers monthly premiums from $8.34 to $50 a month for individuals and from $30 to $180 a month for families. The change would have brought lawmakers’ health insurance costs in line with what state workers, who’ve gone for six years without a pay raise, pay, which Negron called a bargain.

“To me there’s just no rationale for it,” Negron argued. “We should all be treated equally. Legislators shouldn’t have richer benefits than the people that we work with.”

But Negron’s Republican colleagues expressed concern that the costs of being in office have increased and the cheap health care is a perk for an otherwise demanding job that pays less than $30,000 although it takes up so much time that some lawmakers have no other employment.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, called Negron’s proposal a “political statement” that could make discourage Floridians who aren’t rich from running for office.

“It’s very difficult to vote against it. But I don’t think it’s good policy,” Bogdanoff said.

Negron, a candidate for Senate president in 2016 and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services budget committee, bristled at the criticism.

“It isn’t a political statement,” Negron said, adding that he left the Capitol after midnight this morning and ran into two janitors, one of whom was working a second job.

The $180-a-month family coverage is a great deal, Negron said, because equivalent coverage in the private sector costs up to $500.

“I can see no rationale why we as legislators should be treated five to six times better than 27,000 of our co-workers,” he said. “We’re saying legislators should lead by example…We’re not entitled to preferential treatment.”

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, held a voice vote on the amendment and ruled that it failed to pass. Negron said he agreed with Alexander’s call.

Speaker-to-be tells Crist to back off on federal health care reforms

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon essentially gave Gov. Charlie Crist a cease and desist order telling the governor to quit enabling the federal government regarding health care reforms.

Cannon, R-Orlando, accused Crist of “commandeering of state insurance regulatory resources” by allowing executive agencies to begin implementing the federal health care reforms even as the state is suing White House agencies over them.

Read Cannon’s letter to Crist here.

Cannon’s demands could set up a possible showdown between the executive and legislative branches of government over the health care reforms, which Crist, the independent candidate in the U.S. Senate race, says he supports in part.

Cannon gave Crist until Nov. 15 to tell him how much the state is spending on workers and other resources to comply with the reforms and told him that Crist will need the legislature’s approval before taking any further action.

Cannon complains in the letter to Crist that the Office of Insurance Regulation is jumpstarting new insurance regulations by developing data systems. But that office is overseen by not just Crist. He and the Florida Cabinet – including Attorney General Bill McCollum, who filed the lawsuit over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act – make up the Financial Services Commission that’s in charge of OIR.

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