TALLAHASSEE — Members of a Senate committee approved two different alternatives to expanding Medicaid on Wednesday, saying they want to keep their options open as they work to strike a deal with House Republicans.
However, the panel's unanimous support of a proposal by Sen. Joe Negron made clear that Senate Republicans are willing to accept $51 billion in federal funds to provide insurance to 1 million poor Floridians, even if the House is not.
"As we see all the different proposals, I think this is truly the most responsible use of our taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.
Both Republicans and Democrats praised Negron, R-Stuart, for coming up with a plan they say would improve the health of poor Floridians and boost the Florida economy. Stakeholder groups also lined up to speak in favor of the plan, which they colloquially called "Negroncare."
Negron's proposal, SB 1816, would accept billions of dollars in federal assistance offered to expand Medicaid and instead allow Floridians to purchase health care on the private insurance market.
The plan, which needs federal approval, would use $1.2 billion in federal aid in the first year, Negron said, while costing the state $20 million. People in the plan would be asked to pay $15-$20 monthly premiums.
The proposal is supported by Gov. Rick Scott, and as of Wednesday, the influential business lobby Associated Industries of Florida.
The plan "meets the goals that our board has set, which is providing additional access, availability, affordability and quality care to Floridians, as well as at least alleviating those additional costs on our businesses," said AIF general counsel Tammy Perdue.
Garcia and the committee's other Republicans also advanced a health care alternative that rejects federal funding.
The proposal, offered by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, would use $15 million in state funding in the first year to help about 250,000 people receive basic access to health care such as flu shots or preventative care.
Bean said his proposal is a lifeline to negotiations with House Republicans, who have said they do not want to accept federal money.
The committee's four Democrats panned Bean's alternative, which passed along party lines. "I think it falls far short of what we need in terms of coverage for the people of Florida who need it," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who likened the proposal "to buying four flat tires and expecting the car to drive."
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned the wisdom of advancing both plans to the full budget committee. "It's like taking two dates to the prom," he said.
House Republicans are mulling a third proposal that would cover about 130,000 people and be paid for without federal money. That plan, shepherded by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, would cost the state as much as $266 million annually.
Negron said Wednesday he is willing to work with House Republicans on a compromise that would contain elements of each plan.
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