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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Death, life, politics and the Medically Needy



With all due respect to the bard: What’s in a name? That which we call the Medically Needy by any other name would not seem so needy…..

That’s especially true under Sen. Joe Negron’s plan to change the name of the Medically Needy program to the “Medicaid Non poverty Medical Subsidy” program. Negron, the chairman of the Senate’s health budget committee, has complained about the name of Medically Needy, which serves transplant survivors who have high medication bills. With a name like Medically Needy, it’s not easy to severely cut the program.

So Negron has proposed the name change. He points out the Medically Needy aren’t technically Medicaid eligible. Proponents point out that the Medically Needy become technically poor once they pay for their meds.

Negron, R-Stuart, said restoring the Medically Needy and another program for frail elders, called Meds AD, would cost the state budget $200 million in general revenue for a three-month period (annualized, the cost is far higher). Negron said restoring the programs would reduce others.

“You can’t do everything,” he said. “That means an adult who gets substance abuse might have to wait until next year because you can’t fund everything in that budget. There are no easy solutions to it. I’m not going to apologize for making tough decisions.”

Nan Rich, the Democrats leaders, said this was the most unkindest cut because people will get sick. Or worse.

“We literally sentence people to death,”  Rich said. “Because that’s what we’re doing.”

Negron noted the cuts don’t take effect until April 1 2012; they don't target children, pregnant women or people over 65; and there’s a federal program that helps people pay for catastrophic medical expenses. Negron also took issue with the “apocalyptic scenario” portrayed by people saying the state would “pull the plug” on the needy. (Of course, Republicans would never be so hyperbolic… unless they’re in Congress and they’re tarring ObamaCare).

Sen. John Thrasher said he took “great exception” to what Rich said. “I am voting for this bill. I don’t believe I’m sentencing anyone to death,” he said, taking Rich to task for offering no ideas for more cuts elsewhere or more revenues.

Not so fast, said Rich. She filed Senate bill 1764 to eliminate what she says are corporate-tax loopholes for offshore companies. Republicans have refused to hear it. Even if they do, it will likely die a swift death. After all, Republicans whipped Democrats at the polls last November, partly based on a tea-party-infused cut-government platform and the hatred over ObamaCare.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander got a little testy. The Lake Wales Republican said his largely rural district has a high unemployment rate and doesn’t benefit as much as urban areas from programs like this.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t slow this down, the people of Florida can’t afford more taxes,” Alexander said, turning to Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne. “You voted against a retirement (savings) bill, Sen. Altman, I don’t know where you think this money will come from.”

Altman, who wants to raise taxes on some cigarette makers, such as Opa-Locka-based Dosal, voted against the Medicaid bill along with Sen. Mike Fasano, a Republican. Once again, Sen. Gary Siplin was the only Democrat to vote for the Republican bill.

How much of this is sound and fury signifying the legislative process?

The House doesn’t cut either program. It doesn’t rename the Medically Needy. And Negron said he’d love to restore the program when the House and Senate meet to hash out their budgets in conference. Assuming the House doesn’t budge, it’s a good bet Medically Needy and Meds AD folks will continue to get their money.

[Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 11:32am]


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