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Chiles hints at special session

Gov. Lawton Chiles made it clear Tuesday he will force lawmakers into special session if they fail to pass a bill expanding health-care coverage for working poor families.

During a breakfast meeting at the governor's mansion, Chiles told members of the House Insurance Committee that he wants to solve "legitimate concerns" raised by the reform measure's opponents.

Chiles compared the health-care bill to workers' compensation, which failed during the regular session last year. Legislation cutting rates passed only when Chiles forced lawmakers to take it up in a special session.

"If we narrow it down to this one issue (in a special session), we can do that," he said. "I got to have something to do after y'all leave for the session."

Insurance Committee chairman John Cosgrove, D-Miami, said last year's health-care reform setting up purchasing alliances for small businesses had more Republican support than Chiles' new plan.

The Democratic governor wants to use state and federal money to subsidize health premiums for families making up to 2{ times the poverty level, or $36,000 for a family of four. The plan requires no tax increase. Republicans, insurance companies and some business lobbies say the bill could subject state taxpayers to huge costs if claims exceed premiums.

"Many of the Republicans last year showed bipartisan support and co-sponsored the bill," Cosgrove said. "Unfortunately, this year some of those forces are becoming more politicized and trying to make an issue out of defeating anything put forward by the administration regardless of the merit."

The health-care bill comes up today in the House Insurance Committee.

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