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Health care bill bogs down in committee

A proposal to expand health care coverage for working poor Floridians and their families sputtered during its first pass through a major committee Tuesday.

Members of the House Health Care Committee expressed numerous reservations about the plan, and Republicans accused committee Chairman Ben Graber of boxing them into a vote on the bill.

Gov. Lawton Chiles has proposed the Florida Health Security Plan to provide affordable insurance coverage for families making up to 2{ times the poverty level. Chiles' plan uses state and federal money to subsidize monthly premiums. Graber developed another piece of legislation to expand access through county health clinics and hospital districts.

Graber said before the meeting that his plan is designed to be a safety net to protect existing programs until Chiles' plan takes effect.

"There's a lot of insecurity about that transition," he said.

That was evident later, when the bill stalled in committee.

Graber plans to combine five separate health care bills into a single large bill, a common maneuver known as a train. Cobbling separate bills together often creates the critical mass needed to pass complex, controversial legislation.

"From a power-play position it makes infinite sense, but I want to put on the record my objection," said Rep. Jim King, R-Jacksonville. He urged Graber to let the bills stand or fall on their own, but Graber refused.

The committee quit after two hours of fractious debate and agreed to start again today.