House And Senate Close In Initial Healthcare Funding Plans

Jan 28, 2016

Credit taxcredits.net

The Florida legislature is working to answer a big question—how to absorb a $400 million hit to its healthcare budget. Lawmakers rolled out a plan Thursday to account for a shrinking pool of federal healthcare dollars.

Florida is now spending most of its money on healthcare—although, most of the dollars come from federal sources. This year, the Florida Senate is planning to spend $34 billion dollars on health services for special needs adults and kids and low-income Floridians. The House, wants to spend $33.7 billion. Both chambers are factoring in the loss of  $400 million in federal dollars that reimburse hospitals for treating low income patients.  Senate healthcare budget chairman Rene Garcia has rolled out a plan for divvying up the remaining funding based on the volume of charity care hospitals provide.

“Category 1 would get 100 percent reimbursement, Category 2 would get 67 percent reimbursement. Three and Four would be 7.5 and one percent…that’s the best that we can do," Garcia explained.

The House is following a similar plan with three categories. The budget also contains some nuggets. The Senate wants to spend a million dollars to fight an increase in HIV. For the past three years, Florida has led the nation in the number of new cases. The climb has come as the state has cut personnel and budgets in the Florida Department of Health. Those healthcare job cuts are slated to continue: Representative Matt Hudson oversees the chamber’s healthcare budget.

“This will include a 2.6 percent reduction in state FTE or a reduction of 847 FTE, he said. One FTE equals one state job. Not all of those positions are filled, and some, as Hudson explains, are removed from one part of the healthcare budget but put back in another.

The Senate has also put funding in the budget for charter schools to open health clinics in their facilities. Some traditional public schools have similar programs. And both chambers will fund an increase in enrollment for KidCare as they eliminate a five-year waiting period for legal, immigrant children to enroll in the health insurance program for low income kids. The move got the backing House Speaker Steve Crisafulli earlier in session:

“These children and their parents have followed our laws and should be able to access the same services as many Florida families can," he told the chamber of the first day of session.

But House Democrats are already expressing concerns over parts of the budget proposals for mental health. House Minority Leader Mark Pafford says the legislature isn’t putting enough into related programs. The Senate proposes $5 million for additional beds in mental hospitals, and Garcia says there’s funding to add about 40 more positions in the mental health hospitals. Pafford says now is the time to fix it before the budget gets to the chamber floors, where options for switching money from other parts of the budget shrink.

“Here’s an opportunity before anything is unveiled, maybe to add $4.7 million, or to reconsider where some of those corporate breaks/corporate welfare is going to go, and reallocate it to mental health funding," he said.

The two proposals rolled out Thursday are still early drafts of the healthcare portion of the budget.  The document will undergo more changes as the House and Senate work to craft a single document.