Florida pols not big on Graham-Cassidy bill

Florida Governor Rick Scott Addresses joint session of the Florida Legislature, 3/7/17 in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Florida Governor Rick Scott Addresses joint session of the Florida Legislature, 3/7/17 in Tallahassee.SCOTT KEELER | Times

After failing numerous times this summer to fulfill their nearly decade-long promise to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature health care bill, Senate Republicans pushed once more.

The proposal sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana would overhaul the current system under the Affordable Care Act by sending revenue from ACA taxes to the 50 states in block grants. The states would be allowed to apply for waivers of current ACA regulations that require all health plans to cover certain "essential health benefits" such as maternity care.

The bill also would end Medicaid's status as an open-ended entitlement, placing a cap on the program that would cut it by tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates Florida would see a $7.5 billion drop in federal health care funding under Graham-Cassidy from 2020 to 2026.

Supporters of the measure say it would give states greater freedom to pursue health systems that work better for their populations. Detractors say combining Medicaid caps with the provision allowing states to opt out of certain coverage areas would lead to health care becoming unavailable for those who need it most.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson opposes it, while Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to support it. We asked the major declared and possible 2018 gubernatorial candidates where they stand on the measure. All the Democrats oppose Graham-Cassidy, and here's what the Republicans said:

• Jack Latvala, the state senator from Clearwater who declared his candidacy in August, said although he supports the idea of block grants, he'd have to learn more about the proposal before he could support or oppose it.

"When they pass a bill and we have an analysis of what it does to Florida, we'll be able to talk about it," Latvala said. "Put me down as undecided at this point."

• Adam Putnam, the agriculture commissioner who declared his candidacy in May, issued the following statement:

"Obamacare has hurt Florida — it has destroyed jobs, cost businesses money and cut Floridians' access to health care. Prices are going up, and choices are going down. Currently, Floridians in 47 of our 67 counties have just one insurer to choose from in the Obamacare marketplace. We must replace Obamacare with a solution that puts Floridians first, one that ensures Floridians have access to high quality health care at an affordable price by increasing competition in the marketplace. Congress needs to focus, for once, and get this done."

• Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the House who has not officially declared for governor but who may run, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

• Ron DeSantis, the U.S. representative who has not officially declared but who looks to be exploring a run, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Travel isn't cheap

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, facing scrutiny for using expensive private planes, made a trip to Florida on Monday, raising more questions about his travel.

Price joined Gov. Rick Scott in the Keys to see Hurricane Irma recovery efforts. How he got there is unclear, but if practice holds, there's a good chance he did not fly commercial.

Several requests by the Tampa Bay Times for information have been ignored by the Health and Human Services department.

Politico on Tuesday reported that Price "took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel." Those flights were to Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Price, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is a fiscal conservative and has criticized not only government spending in general but the use of private planes. In a CNBC interview in 2009, he bashed House Democrats for trying to spend hundreds of millions on eight passenger jets.

"This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility runs amok in Congress right now," Price said.

His spending comes as other Trump administration officials have drawn notice for their habits, chiefly Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"Isn't this guy a fiscal conservative? What the hell is he thinking?" conservative blogger Allahpundit asked of Price. "We would have feasted for days on a story about some entitled, out-of-touch bureaucrat jet-setting around the country on the taxpayer dime during the Obama era."

"The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible," HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest said in a statement to reporters.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.