TALLAHASSEE — As he became House speaker last month, Miami Lakes Republican Jose Oliva promised members of the chamber that he will work to promote school choice for parents, protect natural resources and reduce state and local regulations.
The affable speaker also has agreed to tackle the rising costs of health care, namely how much money is spent at hospitals or hospital-owned facilities. But in an interview Friday, Oliva also addressed other issues on his agenda or facing the Legislature.
The News Service has five questions for Jose Oliva:
Q: Senate President Bill Galvano has come out in support of making changes to insurance laws about "assignment of benefits" to third parties. Changes also are strongly supported by business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Is this the year for assignment of benefits to pass?
OLIVA: What I would like to see, and this goes back to agreement between private parties, rather than government involvement — I would like to see insurance companies be able to provide policies to have their benefits assigned but also be able to offer policies where benefits were not assignable.
I think it would create more affordable insurance and depending on what your needs are as a homeowner can go to a decision about what kind of coverage you can get for your home. …
It certainly can be said that assignment of benefits, as it exists today, can lend itself to rampant overuse and in some cases, fraud. And it's because we have a semi-socialized property insurance system in the state that has become a burden for all homeowners and state taxpayers. Even if you don't own a home, you are still susceptible in your taxes to pay for some of these activities.
I certainly want to pursue an assignment of benefits reform that would significantly limit the ability for its misuse, because it's rather rampant.
Q. Is Florida's mandatory Medicaid managed-care program working, or will we see attempts this session to make changes to it?
OLIVA: I think, overall, it is working very well. The one issue continues to plague that system is the patients who end up hospitalized from time to time. Generally, this is an aging population … and so that's the problem we are trying to solve, runaway costs in hospitals.
But outside of that, it has led to a generally more healthy population, that has more access to routine primary care because the incentives are lined up for that to happen. So I would say that everything always needs tweaks, but that the program is working very well. In spite of continued hospital price increases, it has kept a flat trajectory. It has shown that despite everyone always saying that health care is different than every other experience in our society, it isn't. When incentives are lined up right, you can have manageable and predictable costs.
Q. Business interests this session want lawmakers to revisit workers' compensation insurance, including capping what plaintiffs' attorneys can charge. How large of an issue is workers' compensation for you this session?
OLIVA: We have to take a look at it (as) it does exist a little in its own space. The idea of what we allow people to charge for their services is usually not something I'm very excited to control. I always much rather focus my attention on creating the health of an environment rather than trying — through decree — to make it what I wish it was. There is no example where laws trying to work against the forces of the market have been able to achieve what it is they wanted. And certainly not in any way affordable to the people paying taxes.
Q: How involved will the Florida Legislature get in the implementation of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to most felons who have served their sentences.
OLIVA: I would say I want to make sure that the intent and the will of the people is carried out. What technical distinctions and definitions we create will only be supported so long as they are not outside the intent of the will of the people … that those people who have paid their price to society for certain crimes were able to become a participant in our electoral process again. I don't — in any way — plan to either slow play that or restrain it in any way
Q: How did you vote on it, sir? Galvano said he voted against it.
OLIVA: I think a vote is a private thing.