Medicaid Expansion Dead In Florida But State Looks For Alternatives

Mar 11, 2013

Update 7:10 pm:   In a 7-4 party line vote, the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act shut the door permanently on an expansion of Medicaid. But committee Chairman Senator Joe Negron (R-Stuart) is putting forth an alternative plan to cover roughly the same group of people who would have otherwise been covered under the Medicaid expansion. Negron wants to allow uninsured adults and families into the Healthy Kids program. That’s an insurance exchange funded by federal and state dollars that offers subsidized, managed-care style plans for low-income children.

“I think this is us trying to solve a problem. And the problem is we have millions of people who go to work every day but can’t afford health insurance for themselves or their families," he said. "So we want to find a creative way to help people, empower people, to have their own private health insurance but not put them into the Medicaid program.”   

Senate Democrats released a statement supporting Negron’s alternative. The state could potentially tap into the same pot of money it would have used to expand Medicaid under the federal health law, and Democrats say the plan achieves the same goal of covering more people.

“Although Republicans voted against what they called “traditional Medicaid expansion” they turned around and endorsed a program that still relies on the same federal dollars and still extends affordable health care to 1 million Floridians,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith in a statement. “Whatever name they opt to give the program, the bottom line is that money allocated by the federal government for Medicaid expansion will be the mechanism. In the Senate, the remaining question is no longer ‘if,’ but ‘who.’”

Longtime lobbyist Karen Woodall, Executive Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy who supported the traditional Medicaid Expansion, says Negron’s plan is a viable alternative.

“It’s a movement forward. We have to have the discussion. A loss would be for both sides to say ‘Hell no, we won’t go, end of discussion’... and I’ve heard the conversation will continue.” 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Will Weatherford issued a statement supporting the exploration of an alternative system.

“I look forward to working with Senate President Gaetz as we investigate alternatives that will strengthen the safety net while also ensuring that we do not put future funding for our schools, public safety and protection of our beaches and springs at risk."

Expanding Medicaid was deeply unpopular with Republicans. And Governor Rick Scott angered his conservative base when he endorsed it. Shortly after the Senate vote, Scott issued a statement saying he’s confident the legislature will  “do the right thing and find a way to protect taxpayers and the uninsured". The alternative option would still have to clear the full legislature and could be subject to federal approval.

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Breaking: A Florida Senate panel has rejected an expansion of the Medicaid program under the federal health law. The Senate vote comes a week after a similar vote in the House. But that doesn’t mean the state will leave more than a million people otherwise eligible for Medicaid without insurance, but the Senate panel has come up with an alternative.

After voting against the expansion, Republican Senator Joe Negron has come up with an alternative—using Florida’s Healthy Kids program as a vehicle to insure much of the same population who would have qualified for the federal Medicaid Expansion.

“I don’t want people, lining them up saying you’re now in the existing government program. But what I do want to explore is empowering people with private health insurance," Negron said.

Florida Healthy Kids is an exchange that uses federal, state and private funds to offer managed care style plans to low-income children. Co-pays and premiums are income based. Negron’s proposal would allow Florida Healthy kids to cover uninsured adults and offer family plans. Senate Democrats say it accomplishes the end goal of insuring more people, and House Republicans say they’re willing to work on it.

Check back later on for more updates.

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