House, Senate poised to clash over healthcare funding

Feb 2, 2012

The House and Senate are poised to clash over funding for the state’s health and human services. The House finance committee has approved a plan to slash more than 800-million from healthcare, while the Senate cuts fewer dollars. And as Lynn Hatter reports, neither budget comes close to the $2 billion mark Governor Rick Scott proposed in his state spending plan.

“Today I’m here to deliver one message. Healthcare Cuts don’t heal, they’re permanent.”

“Medicaid is their only option, and I’m concerned that cuts to Medicaid would alter my ability to care for these vulernable citizens.”

“Thanks to Vincent House that I how I recovered through my mental illness.”

That was Judy Griffin with Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Ashley Allen with Shands Hospital, and Chiquita Ivory of St. Petersburg. They and several other speakers from different healthcare groups are asking lawmakers NOT to cut their budgets. They argue the cuts that have taken place over the last few years have led to a reduction in services and in some cases, the ability to treat patients. While sympathetic to their cause, Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joe Negron says his proposed 390-million dollar cut isn’t that bad.

“If you look at $390 million out of a $30 billion dollar budget, that’s a 1.3 percent reduction. And I think most families and businesses given where we are, believe that the state  can absorb a 1.3 percent. And I understand the context that we’ve been making reductions, but I just want to keep some sense of proportionality.”

Negron is the Senate’s chief Healthcare budget writer. And he’s crafting a spending plan that looks a lot different from the one his House counterparts are proposing. Negron’s spending plan would cut low performing programs that deal with mental health and substance abuse for adults before looking at Medicaid rate reductions to hospitals -- a key part of the House plan.

My priority is to reduce programs, but it’s doubtful that the entire budget reduction will be through program reductions and eliminations, so there may have to be some, but that’s my last resort. I’m not planning to make any reductions to nursing home expenditures.”

Negron is also trying to keep Medicaid services intact for adults, something that is reduced under House budget plans.  The two chambers are in agreement on limiting the number of times Medicaid patients can go to the Emergency Room for non-emergency visits. Even though Negron’s budget reductions are less than the House, and don’t even come close to the governor’s call for $2 billion in healthcare cuts, it’s still too much for advocates who say they don’t want any funding drops at all.

Outside the Senate’s chambers a group of teachers and nurses rally against what they say is an unfair choice—education versus healthcare. Money taken from Health and Human Services is going to support education—which is expected to receive an extra billion dollars to help hold funding levels steady for the upcoming fiscal year.  Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich says even though Negron’s proposal doesn’t contain the more drastic cuts, it still amounts to a “Rob Peter to Pay Paul” plan.

 “Then we get into child welfare, substance abuse and mental health. These services have been cut to the bone, most of them. That’s why we had this press conference. It’s a false choice to say each and every time you have to cut. That that’s the only avenue…”

Rich says the state can stave off the cuts by closing tax loopholes. She along with fellow Democrats, Senator Oscar Braynon of Miami and Representative Evan Jenne are proposing legislation like Senate Bill 1590 that would do that.

“We’re not talking about tax increases, we’re talking about making everyone pay their fair share of taxes that are already on the books that everyone should be paying. So a small mom and pop store pays a corporate income tax, so should the large multi-national corporations. That’s what this is about.”

 But the likelihood of the bills getting a hearing is slim. Meanwhile the different positions between the House and Senate on Healthcare spending sets up a clash of ideas that will have to be resolved before the state finalizes a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.