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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House, Senate still disagree on increasing access to health care



Medicaid expansion almost certainly won’t be on the agenda when the Legislature convenes in Tallahassee for its session in January, but health care funding will continue to be a hot issue.

The most pressing question: How to fund the procedures hospitals do for people who can’t afford it and that, therefore, goes unpaid, so-called “charity care.”

On Thursday, federal health care officials are expected to finalize the terms of the final year of the Low Income Pool, which has paid for charity care in Florida. That pot of money, which fell to $1 billion this year, is expected to be $600 million next year.

But other topics on affordable health care will take center stage as well, and already, House and Senate leadership find themselves at odds.

At an Associated Press event in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, addressed their plans for lowering health care costs and increasing access.

“The House believes we need to unleash the power of the free market to improve our healthcare system, to remain steadfastly opposed to any efforts — even those disguised as free-market proposals — to expand Medicaid under Obamacare,” Crisafulli said. “To be clear, the House believes the solution to health care is innovation and choice, not in big government entitlement programs.”

Compare that to Gardiner, who leads a Senate that last spring pushed hard for a plan to use Medicaid expansion dollars to give poor Floridians private health care.

“If you don’t have insurance, it doesn’t matter how many innovative programs you make,” he said. “You still don’t have access.”

Crisafulli and his leadership in the House have emphasized cutting regulation and opening up the health care industry to more market forces as the best chance for decreasing costs and improving access. And while senators are largely on board with some of the particular policy ideas, Gardiner said he doesn’t think that will go far enough to increase the number of Floridians who can afford health care.

With the Low Income Pool set to shrink again, the big issue that brought the Legislature to a halt last spring could rear its ugly head again.

“The Legislature,” said Gardiner, “will have to determine what is the best path.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 6:19pm]


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