Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Health

Fla. Republicans defend hands-off approach on federal health care

TALLAHASSEE — Republican lawmakers are fighting back against criticism that their hands-off approach to the federal health care law is leaving consumers vulnerable.

And they reject accusations that the law preventing the state from regulating health insurance rates for two years was based on faulty or misleading information.

"We had thorough hearings on it. The rationale for the bill was explained thoroughly during the committee process," said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Democrats and consumer groups raised red flags but were unable to dramatically alter Senate Bill 1842, which passed with most Democrats and just one Republican voting no. Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in May, but a recent PolitiFact ruling cast a spotlight on the bill.

PolitiFact pointed out that Florida had forfeited its ability to regulate rates for plans listed on the health exchange even though the federal government doesn't have the power to deny rate increases.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said last week that she was "baffled" by the state's actions. She said she didn't know of any other state that relaxed its oversight and that most were beefing up insurance regulations.

"If lawmakers are saying that they knew what they were doing when they passed the bill, then they knowingly passed a bill that strips vital consumer protections and misleads Floridians," said Leah Barber-Heinz, spokeswoman for consumer group Florida CHAIN. "They hypocritically turned over the state's authority to regulate its insurance industry to the federal government, though they do not have the authority to do that."

Republican lawmakers are standing by their approach. There is still too much uncertainty around health care reform for the state to take responsibility for what happens on the exchange right now, they said.

"I think it was the right thing to do, and it gives the state of Florida breathing room as a very, very difficult and complex law is being attempted to be implemented," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the bill's sponsor.

Even without state rate review, there are consumer protections in the health care law intended to prevent insurers from gouging customers.

For example, if companies don't spend at least 80 or 85 percent of premium dollars on direct medical care, they must issue rebates, a provision known as medical loss ratio. The federal government can kick plans off the exchange or brand a company's premiums "unreasonable."

But the feds don't have ratemaking authority, and the law didn't anticipate states suspending their rate approval functions as Florida has.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, changed her vote on SB 1842 from yes to no because she got last-minute jitters about the relaxed regulations. She thinks the federal government should have created a rate approval process for policies on exchanges, but in the absence of that the state should have stepped up.

"The law is the 'affordable' health care act and we're not guaranteeing affordable at this juncture, so I'm not happy with the situation as it is," she said.

But Sobel is also at a loss about how to fix it now or even if anything could have been done when the bill was passed this spring. Florida refused federal grants that other states used to beef up their insurance oversight, and by the time the bill was up for a vote, lawmakers were focused on the budget and other priorities.

"It slipped through," she said. "It absolutely slipped through."

Contact Tia Mitchell at [email protected]

Comments
Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

ST. PETERSBURG — Three days.That’s how long residents of two unlicensed assisted living facilities went without running water before the authorities shut the facilities down last week.The Public Works Department said it turned off the water at 3418 a...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Exercise myths persist, so let’s fight them

Exercise myths persist, so let’s fight them

When it comes to fitness, can you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Misinformation abounds, and research is continually disproving it. Some myths, like "no pain, no gain," are fading away, but there are plenty more that persist. It’s impo...
Published: 04/24/18

Veteran who survived blast receives unusual penis transplant

WASHINGTON — A veteran who lost his genitals from a blast in Afghanistan has received the world’s most extensive penis transplant, and doctors said Monday he’s recovering well and expected to leave the hospital this week. Saying they wanted to addres...
Published: 04/23/18
Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Public health officials are now telling consumers to avoid all types of romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak linked to the vegetable that has spread to at least 16 states and sickened at least 60 people, including eight inmates at an Alask...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood is expanding its emergency department. The hospital, 7171 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, is spending $17.5 million to add 15 new private treatment rooms, new pediatric rooms and waiting areas, and new technology, acco...
Published: 04/18/18
Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

As she nears death at age 92, former first lady Barbara Bush’s announcement that she is seeking "comfort care" is shining a light — and stirring debate — on what it means to stop trying to fight terminal illness.Bush, the wife of former President Geo...
Published: 04/17/18
Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

When the patient got violent, Dr. Michelle Hidalgo didn’t have time to think. She had to react. The woman was moving strangely and seemed erratic. Hidalgo had to make a tough call — it was time to physically restrain her for everyone’s safety.Then th...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Lung cancer patients live longer with immune therapy

The odds of survival can greatly improve for people with the most common type of lung cancer if, along with the usual chemotherapy, they are also given a drug that activates the immune system, a major new study has shown.The findings should change me...
Published: 04/16/18
Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

A Pennsylvania food manufacturer is recalling 8, 757 pounds of ready-to-eat salad products following an E. coli outbreak that has spread to several states and sickened dozens of people.Fresh food Manufacturing Co., based in Freedom, Pennsylvania, is ...
Published: 04/15/18