The Buzz: Gov. Scott vetoed money to fight health care fraud

Gov. Rick Scott flanked by senate president Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, speaks at the end of session on Friday, May 2, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC127
Gov. Rick Scott flanked by senate president Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, speaks at the end of session on Friday, May 2, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC127
Published July 13, 2014

In politics, optics matter.

Gov. Rick Scott, who will spend the next few months fending off familiar criticism of the health care fraud at his former hospital company, had a chance to put more money into fighting health care fraud in Florida.

But to the disappointment of a key Republican lawmaker, he said no. One of Scott's little-noticed line-item vetoes in the new $77 billion budget would have set aside more money to investigate fraud in the Medicaid program. Scott gave no reason for the veto at the time he signed the budget.

The push for the money came from Scott's fellow Republicans in the Senate Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Rob Bradley.

"It's disappointing," said Bradley, R-Fleming Island. "No area of our budget is growing at a faster rate than Medicaid and health care, and anything we can do to contain costs in health care is important. We have to fight fraud."

Scott vetoed line item No. 1347: "$1,500,000 in nonrecurring general revenue is provided for the continuation and expansion of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit's data mining initiative. Funds shall accelerate and grow the project's predictive analytic analysis and data integration."

An internal Senate budget worksheet provided the "why" for the request: "Fight criminal rings robbing Florida's Medicaid system."

Because the data mining project is a joint federal-state program, with the feds paying 75 percent, the $1.5 million would have brought $4.5 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, the Senate said. The veto left that federal money on the table.

The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is under Attorney General Pam Bondi, and her office did not seek the extra money, which a Senate summary of the request noted. The worksheet noted that the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state Medicaid agency, wanted $5 million more to monitor fraud in Medicaid claims: "The AG must increase their investment to deploy an industry-leading solution needed to bring down the largest and most valuable crime rings."

Scott spokesman John Tupps said the state has invested $800,000 over the past two years for a Medicaid fraud initiative under Bondi and $8 million for the AHCA to combat fraud.

"Combating Medicaid fraud is very important, and in our mission to make this the best state for Florida families, we were proud to combat Medicaid fraud in other parts of our budget," Tupps said.

Jacksonville joust

Lenny Curry, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, is raising big bucks in his challenge to Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. Curry pulled in $560,000 in 27 days since he filed for the seat, up for grabs next year.

"His blockbuster $568,730 fundraising month topped Brown's more than $330,000 haul in April, the mayor's biggest fundraising month to date that brought his total to more than $1.1 million," reports the Florida Times-Union.

It's hot: Cleveland

Cleveland beat out Dallas to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. The GOP went with a swing state, as it did in Florida in 2012.

There's a strong chance Cleveland won't have to contend with a tropical storm, which forced organizers to cancel the first day of the Tampa convention.

It's a long time from now to then, but will Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio be accepting the nomination?

Rubio attempted some humor with the news, writing on Twitter: "Congratulations to Cleveland on being awarded the RNC. But you still aren't getting @KingJames back!"

The trash talk — which turned into trash as Miami Heat star LeBron James said Friday he'll return to his old team — brought some visceral reactions: @MikeAmmo: "Apparently @marcorubio doesn't want to be President someday. #swingstate." On Friday, Rubio tried to make amends: "Thank you to @KingJames for giving us 4 great years! Wish you much success back home in Ohio."

No front-runner

A Quinnipiac University national poll released last week found a GOP presidential field with no clear front-runner. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky got 11 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Florida Gov. Bush with 10 percent each.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had 8 percent each, and U.S. Sen. Rubio got 6 percent.

No other candidate got over 3 percent, and 20 percent were undecided.

Tune in

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, appears on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today.

Times Political Editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz.