1. Florida Politics

Senate, House still at a stalemate over Medicaid expansion alternative

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate effectively rejected the House's alternative to expanding Medicaid on Monday, prolonging a stalemate that may prove too difficult to resolve before the legislative session wraps up this week.

Senators on Monday took up the House plan, which passed last week, but quickly amended the bill by swapping in their own plan. The Senate is expected to pass the amended bill and send it back to the House today.

What happens after that is anyone's guess.

The Senate plan relies on $51 billion in federal funding over 10 years to provide private health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians. The House proposal uses only state money — up to about $300 million a year — to provide basic health coverage to 130,000 people.

House members last week criticized the Senate plan as extending the current Medicaid system in the state, a program that they say does not provide quality insurance to low-income Floridians.

On Monday, senators fired back.

"Nothing in this bill expands Medicaid," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who drafted the Senate plan. "We don't want to expand Medicaid, and we want to have a Florida solution and not Washington solution."

The Senate proposal has the support of hospitals, business groups such as the Associated Industries of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott. But with House Republicans dug in against accepting federal money, there appears to be little room for compromise.

"We have a different way to do it, and in the end it's difficult to resolve strongly held viewpoints about how to pay for things," said Negron, adding that compromise was unlikely.

On Monday, senators gutted a third alternative that was created as an olive branch to the House. Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, stripped his bill so that it no longer deals with an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

That leaves two vastly divided chambers, two very different proposals and just four days. Scott said he remains optimistic the Legislature will "do the right thing."

"Our choice now is to decide whether we're going to take care of the uninsured," Scott said. "I support Sen. Negron's bill. The House and Senate know exactly where I stand on this."

Times/Herald staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.