Florida lawmakers are bracing for budget holes despite figures showing the state could end up with another year of surplus. The cost driver: healthcare.
Healthcare concerns, more specifically cost problems—are starting to take over conversations at the capital.
Health costs aren't staying in their box, as evidenced by a Wednesday committee looking at the office of vocational rehab, which helps disabled Floridians find jobs:
“We’re spending money for surgical services, and medical diagnostic services, medical testing, just so you know, just so you know, that’s in the education budget," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Despite its purpose as a jobs agency Vocational Rehab is spending most of its money on healthcare services. The director says that’s mostly due to mental health services because people who are uninsured have turned to her agency for help.
And for the past several months, state budget officials have been talking about the growing costs of the state’s Medicaid program. Lawmakers privatized it a few years ago hoping to save money, but costs are starting to get larger as more people enter the system.
“Increased life expectancy and longevity, the second is the aging population increasing demand for services, the third is technological change in medicine and the forth is prescription drug costs overall," state economist Amy Baker told the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.
To make it worse a federal program that has supplied billions to hospitals treating uninsured patients, is being phased out—causing the healthcare budget hole to get even bigger. And that, says Republican Senator Tom Lee, will have to be addressed soon.
“There is a real, real problem on the horizon from our state budget standpoint. we have the obligation to manage it before it becomes a crisis and not kick the can down the road.”
Lee chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Florida lawmakers have started rolling out several proposals and ideas to cut or curb healthcare costs. Governor Rick Scott wants price transparency in hospitals, and plans to grow alternative healthcare centers are underway. A move to let highly trained nurses act as primary care providers could be revived.