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Chiles health plan appears terminal

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Gov. Lawton Chiles' coveted health care reform plan appears doomed by a partisan fight that reaches all the way to Washington.

Republican leaders of the state Legislature delivered an unequivocal rejection of Chiles' proposal to use federal and state subsidies to expand health coverage for uninsured Floridians. In doing so, they claimed the backing of country's two most powerful Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Senate President Jim Scott and House Republican Leader Dan Webster said their talks in Washington last week convinced them there is no truth to Chiles' claim that his health care reform would save Florida up to $9-billion over five years.

Chiles said earlier this month he plans to call a special session this summer so the Legislature can take up his Florida Health Security plan. Because the plan uses a waiver of federal rules to give Florida more Medicaid money, Chiles and House Democrats contend it could help the state avoid devastating Medicaid cuts moving ahead in Congress.

But Scott, R-Fort Lauderdale, said top congressional leaders dashed the notion that states with waivers would be treated better than others.

"With the foregoing in mind," Scott said in a letter to Chiles, "Rep. Webster and I would remind you that the Legislature has rejected the Florida Health Security three times . . . We oppose, on a policy and philosophic basis, your proposal to embark on an expanded new government subsidy program at a time when Florida and the country is going in the opposite direction."

Chiles' communications director, Ron Sachs, said the governor plans to go ahead with a special session despite Scott's "unilateral decision" to block it.

"Gov. Chiles does not accept President Scott's letter as the last word on the subject," Sachs said. "The governor had reached out to President Scott to be a partner in developing a nonpartisan plan to take advantage of this waiver for the people of Florida."

Scott urged Chiles "to put this issue behind you" and work with Florida's congressional delegation to make sure the state gets a fair share of money when the block grants are parceled out.

"Rep. Webster and I were told at every turn that block grants would pass and that there would not be any grandfather of waivers or distribution of money based on the waivers," he wrote.

Later, in an interview, he added, "I think for the governor to call us (into session) would be a considerable waste of time and money . . ."