Senator Joe Negron’s bill, SPB 7038, otherwise known as “Negron-Care” got a unanimous vote by the chamber’s appropriations committee. And Democrats, who wanted the state to expand Medicaid eligibility to more people under the Affordable Care Act, thanked Negron for crafting an alternative route.
“I support...cautiously support today, this first step. I want to thank Sen. Negron for not just shutting the door in saying no, but coming up with something that gets us started down the road toward where we want to be," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith.
Negron’s proposal would cover individuals making up to $15,000 and a family of three up to $26,000. That’s the same population that would have been covered under the Medicaid expansion. Negron’s plan would allow an estimated one-million people, to enroll in the Florida’s KidCare program, which currently offers low-cost plans for children. There would be co-pays.
The federal government has expressed interest in Negron's plan. But those opposed to the Medicaid expansion say it creates government dependency, and they argue Negron’s alternative would do the same thing:
“We need people to stand on their own two feet," said Michael Rosenthal, a frequent speaker at meetings where the health law has been discussed. He says he’s disappointed the state is considering a plan that relies on federal dollars and is worried about future costs:
“When they passed Medicare, they projected the cost in 1990 to be $12 billion and it ended up being $110 billion. So if we end up in that type of mess, you’re going to have to raise taxes tremendously.”
State economists say the traditional Medicaid expansion would bring down about $51 billion over the next state. Florida’s share of the cost of the program would be $3.5 billion. It’s not yet known how much expanding the KidCare program will cost, but Negron says he believes the state’s option will save some money.
Other lawmakers like Republican Senator Aaron Bean are considering their own approach for covering more Floridians. Though nothing has been put forward in writing, Bean wants the state to provide vouchers for people to purchase private insurance plans. Still, during Thursday’s committee, he congratulated Negron on his proposal.
“I’m looking forward to working with him. In our health policy committee yesterday we invited all our members to come up with pans, we gave them homework over our Spring break next week and so we look forward to coming up with ideas we can incorporate to find a plan that will offer help to those that need it," said Bean.
Lawmakers stress that Negron’s bill is not a done deal. The hearing in the Appropriations Committee is just a first stop and it will be amended as it makes its way through other committees. And lawmakers like Senator Arthenia Joyner a Democrat, had some suggestions:
“Is an ombudsman provided for in the legislation to help patients? Someone with whom they can register problems they’re encountering?”
Joyner also says the state should look into adding people called “navigators” into the program to help consumers shop and compare plans. Under the federal health law, navigators are people who do a similar task for consumers in federal health insurance exchanges. Negron says he’ll take that into consideration.
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