1. Health

Florida Senate committee takes first look at implementing health care law

TALLAHASSEE — The first committee meeting of the 2013 legislative session was the Senate's Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and it had all the makings of a classic: a grim overview on the implementation of a controversial new law, shouting audience members and a fiery monologue from a senior senator.

Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is leading the committee, started off Monday by outlining his three guiding principles when considering Florida's implementation of the law: protect individual choice; limit regulatory burden on businesses affected; and promote competition and improve value of health care.

His vice chairwoman, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, indicated she will encourage her colleagues to embrace the law.

"Being that this is the law, we have to abide by the law and do what's best for the people of Florida in terms of their health care," she said. "Being the state with the third-largest uninsured population, I think that needs to be reckoned with."

Florida has many decisions to make, as outlined in a lengthy presentation. For example, even if the state does not embrace the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, it will still have to deal with the costs of paying doctors more under Medicaid as required by the law. And there may be more people who sign up for Medicaid under the existing requirements, something that the state will have to pay for, regardless.

When it comes to a health exchange, Florida has to decide in the coming weeks whether it wants to create its own, partner with the federal government or just allow a federal exchange to be set up in the state.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have agreed to create exchanges, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Six states have opted for partnerships and 17 others have deferred to the federal government.

Negron allowed about 45 minutes for public comment. About a dozen people opposed to the law spoke during that time. Many said they were affiliated with tea party groups. Not one supporter was among the public speakers.

Toward the end, Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith launched into a mini history lesson, addressing the speakers who oppose the law: "It's hard to sit here and be silent and listen to some of this."

Smith said the federal government has had to step in previously when the U.S. Constitution fell short, referencing school integration and even the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. "The federal government had to stand in because our Constitution is an imperfect document."

That riled up the tea partiers, who booed loudly as Smith tried to finish his statement and hold up the constitutional amendment process as proof that sometimes history proves controversial new laws right. Eventually, Negron stepped in to chastise the crowd for not showing Smith respect.