Florida Senate Narrowing Health Care Choice

TALLAHASSEE | The House and Senate have so far taken separate paths when trying to determine how to expand health insurance to Florida’s lowest-income populations.

The state had the option of taking $51 billion from Washington over the next decade offered under the Affordable Care Act to expand the government-run Medicaid program, but legislative leaders rejected that plan. After that decision, though, agreement has been fleeting.

House leaders have been clear: They don’t want to accept any federal cash as part of an expansion plan. That has shifted the heavy lifting to the Senate, which is considering two plans that could cover 550,000 to 1 million uninsured Floridians.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said he crafted a plan because compromise legislation was needed to bridge the gap between the two chambers. It accepts no federal funds.

A second plan, authored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would accept the $51 billion offered under Obamacare to offer insurance to 1 million residents. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said the idea is a non-starter in his chamber. “I want to be the compromise plan. That’s the only way we have a chance of beefing this up,” Bean said.

The plan would use subsidies offered under Obamacare to help those making 133 to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, an annual salary between $11,490 and $15,869 for an individual, get insurance on federal health care exchanges.

Bean’s plan would create state-funded spending accounts administered by Florida Health Choices, a health care marketplace Bean helped create in 2008 when he was a member of the House. That plan would initially be funded at $15 million, a number that could be adjusted in each state budget. That money would initially help an additional 60,000 residents get insurance. If lawmakers give the plan more money in future years, more people could be added or the proposed $20 monthly contribution could be lowered.

Negron said Wednesday he would be willing to take provisions from Bean’s plan and the House’s proposal, which is carried by Orange Park Republican Travis Cummings, to create a compromise plan, but it would still rely on federal money. He pointed to the billions Florida already accepts in federal funding for things like transportation projects and health care. “I would lay that rationale out to our friends in the House,” Negron said.

During a two-hour hearing, a Senate health care panel Wednesday approved a plan to use $1.2 billion in federal money, and $20 million in state funds for the Negron plan if it were to become law.
That money would cover about 438,000 next year. Eventually it’s estimated that the plan would offer insurance to an estimated 1 million more Floridians, who would pay $15 to $20 each month. It was a track clearly favored during the meeting. The panel approved it on a 13-0 vote and it received praise from a host of special interest groups, including the AARP, the Services Employee International Union, business lobby Associated Industries Florida, and the Florida Hospital Association. “The infusion of new federal resources will help Florida’s economy and help Florida’s jobs situation,” said Paul Belcher, FHA’s senior vice president.

The committee also passed Bean’s plan on a 7-4, with two Republicans, including Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, not voting. It was opposed by speakers organized by the Services Employee International Union and the committee’s Democrats. “I liken it to buying a car with four flat tires and expecting it to drive,” said Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Both Senate plans have one remaining committee stop.

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Retrieved From:
The Florida Times Union
April 19th, 2013