Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Health

Senate Republicans pitch Medicaid expansion alternative

TALLAHASSEE — Top Senate Republicans, who last week said no to expanding Medicaid, want to instead use the $55 billion offered as part of President Barack Obama's health care law to funnel poor Floridians into subsidized, private health insurance.

The plan, crafted by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would expand the state's Florida Healthy Kids program to cover qualifying adults 18 and older. People in the expanded plan would be required to pay small premiums and co-pays, and they would have access to health reimbursement accounts to help cover out-of-pocket expenses.

The program, which gets its first hearing today, would have to win the approval of both a skeptical House and the federal government. And there will be plenty of questions, including how many people would be covered, and how much the program would cost the state.

Negron's proposal represents a middle ground for Republican senators, many of whom are uncomfortable adding as many as 1 million Floridians to the state's Medicaid rolls but equally leery of turning down $55 billion in federal aid over the next decade. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that 50 percent of Floridians say the state should expand its Medicaid program, while 40 percent said it should not.

Gov. Rick Scott, who last month broke from conservatives and endorsed a plan to expand Medicaid, told the Times/Herald he's open to this compromise.

"My understanding is it's consistent with what I said I would support," Scott said. "It's 100 percent federal funding. It's taking care of the uninsured. It's using the two Medicaid waivers that I was able to get that will give us more flexibility. And it's going to deal with cost, quality and access to care."

It will also have a new name: Healthy Florida.

The program builds on Florida Healthy Kids, which serves children whose parents are without insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Parents now pay $15 or $20 a month for private health policies for their children, plus co-pays of $5 or $10, depending on the type of services received. Florida Healthy Kids currently has 236,000 members.

The new program would be run by the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. in coordination with the Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Children and Families and Department of Health.

Participants would be able to choose their own insurance plan and pay minimal monthly premium and co-pays, though an exact amount is not known. As part of Negron's proposal, the state would have to submit its plan for federal approval by June 14. The program would expire at the end of any fiscal year in which the federal government breaks its funding level promises.

As part of the health care law, the federal government proposed expanding Medicaid for people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. To do so, it would pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and taper down to 90 percent of the costs in 2020 and beyond. Though Scott voiced support for the expansion, Senate and House Republicans objected — effectively killing the idea.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said he supports the Healthy Florida compromise and hopes the House leadership will sign on to the Senate's plan. "Whatever you want to call it, if it provides the services to the needy members of Florida's society, we're all for it," Thurston said during a pro-Medicaid expansion rally with faith leaders Wednesday.

House Republicans could be a hard sell. Leaders there have said they are willing to forgo the federal money.

"The idea that the federal government can buy off states — buy us off with money, so-called 'free money' — and that somehow they will make us more dependent and more entitled is a bad thing for the state of Florida," House Speaker Will Weatherford told a tea party-affiliated group Tuesday. "And I'm here to tell you the state of Florida will not do it, American should not do it, and we should turn back any Medicaid expansion money."

On Wednesday, Weatherford would only say through a spokesman that a House committee studying health care will "take a close look" at the Senate's proposal.

Contact Tia Mitchell at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

The number of doctors practicing in Florida has not kept up with the state’s surging population growth, and more money is needed to recruit and keep them here, hospital leaders said Wednesday.The shortage is particularly acute in four speciality area...
Updated: 5 hours ago
An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

Consider it America’s other prescription drug epidemic.For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons. Researchers estimate that 25 per...
Published: 12/13/17
How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

Florida slightly improved its national standing this year, rising from 36th to 32nd overall in the annual America’s Health Rankings report. But the takeaway for the nation’s third-largest state is that it has a long way to go in many important health...
Published: 12/12/17
Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are heavily tinted and the inside is hidden behind rows of curtains. Security cameras monitor every corner, and only patients with an appointment and valid identification can pass through the intentionally cramped e...
Published: 12/12/17
Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Jimmy Kimmel was absent from his ABC late-night show last week while his 8-month-old son, Billy, recovered from his second heart surgery. Ever since Billy was born with a heart defect and required immediate surgery, Kimmel has become an outspoken adv...
Published: 12/12/17
Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

With just four days left to enroll for health insurance on the federal exchange, advocates for the Affordable Care Act say Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. In week five of the six-week open enrollment period, about 823,180 people signed ...
Published: 12/12/17
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — After Yarly Raygoza attended the drug prevention program at the Boys & Girls Club here last year, she used what she learned to talk a few friends out of using marijuana.The 14-year-old took the class again this year but worries ...
Published: 12/10/17
Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggl...
Published: 12/10/17
A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Francisco Piedra fixed his eyes on the man sitting beside him. His name was Richard Brown, and in his hands he held Piedra’s new ones.The prosthetics were black and plastic. Each one took about 20 hours to build from a 3D printer. Pi...
Published: 12/08/17