Program for low-income patients on the rocks

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said, “The day of reckoning is here.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said, “The day of reckoning is here.”
Published April 2, 2015

Federal health care officials are temporarily suspending negotiations with Florida over a $2.2 billion program that helps safety-net hospitals, the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Wednesday.

Agency Secretary Elizabeth Dudek called the news "sudden and disappointing."

Dudek said Florida's conversations with the federal government over the so-called Low Income Pool (LIP) program "had been productive and positive until this point," and suggested the move "could signal the abrupt end of this federal health care program in Florida."

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to say why its chief negotiator would be unavailable for the next two weeks. But a CMS spokesman said the agency planned to "remain in contact with the state."

The federal government's announcement only adds to the tension in Tallahassee over next year's budget. House and Senate lawmakers are about $5 billion apart because the Senate budget is counting on receiving billions of dollars in federal aid, including the LIP money.

Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, who had discussed the LIP program with federal officials in Washington this week, said he was puzzled over the federal government's action.

"I don't know where this is coming from," García said. "When we met with them, they were very receptive to working with us."

The LIP program, which helps hospitals treat low-income patients, expires on June 30. The federal government has refused to extend the program as it currently exists, but has not ruled out the possibility of a successor program.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, said that Florida shouldn't expect a deal unless it expands Medicaid — something House Republicans adamantly oppose.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was also in Tallahassee Wednesday, delivered a similar message: "The day of reckoning is here."

Changing course

The Florida Senate voted Wednesday to block Attorney General Pam Bondi from challenging President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.

And then it changed its mind.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, asked to include language prohibiting state money from being used to join a Texas lawsuit against Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program grants temporary deportation relief to undocumented young adults who arrived in the United States as children.

The Senate voted 16-15 to adopt the amendment onto a bill for the state budget.

But a few minutes later, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called for the amendment to be reconsidered, saying he had voted for the amendment by accident.

"I momentarily sympathized with (Soto) because I do sympathize with his feelings on that issue," he said.

The second time, the amendment failed on a voice vote.