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Thurman fights battle for Medicaid

Fearful that Florida might lose the battle for valuable Medicaid funding, U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman is looking for help both in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee.

This month, Thurman wrote a letter to Florida Senate President Jim Scott and House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace urging them to pass legislation that would allow Florida to take advantage of a federal Medicaid waiver. The waiver clears the way for states to implement innovative Medicaid programs.

Why would the legislation be important? Because Congress might decide to switch Medicaid to a block-grant program. If that happens, Thurman suspects that states flourishing under the federal waiver program would make out better under the new rules.

Thirteen of Thurman's fellow representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, joined in that letter.

On a separate although related front, Thurman on Tuesday joined Florida Democratic representatives in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In it, the lawmakers expressed concern that Gingrich and other House Republicans were basing their Medicaid plans on a funding formula that many consider outdated and unfair to growth states.

Thurman has long argued that the formula, which determines how much of the financial burden states must handle, are improperly based on a state's per capita income. A better way, she says, would be to base the formula on a state's poverty level and total taxable income.

Thurman said Florida would stand to receive $350-million more each year if her proposal were adopted.

"Cutting Medicaid by using a formula scheme that locks in spending without variation would devastate the state of Florida as well as other high-growth states," the letter says.

Indeed, at a news conference in Washington, Thurman said taxpayers would be sentenced to "perpetual purgatory" if Medicaid became a block-grant program under the current funding formula.

Thurman represents Florida's 5th Congressional District, which includes all of Citrus and Hernando counties, part of Pasco, and all or part of six other counties north to Dixie.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report