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Lawmakers Want More Specifics As They Hash Out Plan To Implement 'Obamacare'

The Florida Legislature is in Tallahassee this week, and one major topic of discussion is the federal healthcare overhaul law. Between having to decide whether to expand its Medicaid rolls or looking at how the Affordable Care Act will impact businesses, lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to implement the new law.

“This Affordable Care Act, the way I understand it, is that it will probably help find some affordable options for us,” said Arie Strobel.

Strobel is telling a group of Florida lawmakers what implementing the Affordable Care Act would mean for her and her nine-year-old daughter. The Palm Beach County resident testified before the House Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Monday.

The 53-year-old says she’s been struggling to get coverage for years now since she fell on hard times. But it wasn’t always that way, since years ago, Strobel and her husband at the time had an air-conditioning business.

“We were able to provide health care through the business for the few employees that we had and then ourselves, including my daughter when she was born in 2003," said Strobel.

"And, my husband suddenly died in 2009 and as the qualifier for the business and the owner, that ended the business and the insurance. It left us with a lot of debt and not a lot of ways for me to handle that.”

And, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, who’s also a member on the panel, says it’s testimony, like Strobel’s, that really puts everything into perspective.

“So, I think it’s a reflection now that it’s time for us to move a little bit faster. A couple of times we talked about the delay and dragging of the feet and what position it’s put us in and what we need to do now to catch up. But, now it’s time for us to move forward and get this thing implemented,” said Thurston.

Thurston as well as other lawmakers on the panel, like its Vice Chair Representative Matt Hudson, are trying to hash out specifics on how to implement the federal health care overhaul law. Hudson, who’s also the House’s health care budget writer, says before the Legislature can make a definite decision, the committee needs to make sure it has all the necessary information. But, the Republican says lawmakers don’t have a full picture yet.

“Let’s say you picked out a home and your realtor came to you with a ten-page contract, and said on the back page, you’re going to need to review the document, sign it, and date it. And, you start flipping through the document and you went to your realtor said now, wait a minute, the last four pages are blank, and your realtor said ‘trust me, it’s going to be fine.’ You wouldn’t do that in your personal life with your own personal finances for the biggest expenditure of your life," remarked Hudson.

"And, so we’re making a decision that’s going to affect the state of Florida for decades   to come and yet, we’ve been given effectively a very large 500-page contract, roughly speaking, but the last 150 pages are blank.”

Hudson also says Florida still has a long ways to go and he says that’s partly because the federal government is not working as well as it could with the states.

“You can’t talk about giving the states a voice in the process and then not appoint anybody from the states on any of their advisory boards or any of that. You can’t talk about granting the states flexibility, and turn around and say there’s no flexibility in the Medicaid expansion. So, I think there’s a desire to work with the federal government, but it has to be a two-way street.”

Meanwhile, a Senate panel had a similar meeting Monday, and heard presentations from businesses that would be affected by the new law.  Republican Senator Joe Negron, the panel’s Chairman, says it’s very important to find out how it will impact both employers and employees across Florida.

“The majority of our fellow citizens in Florida that have health insurance have it through their employers and so the goal today is to probe into the effect of the Affordable Care Act, both large and small, what we can do as a state to make sure that is as positive of an effect as we can, and to mitigate against any unforeseen consequences.”

One of the biggest questions lawmakers will have to answer is whether to expand Florida’s Medicaid rolls, making more low-income families eligible. And, in recent weeks, talk about what that could cost the state has turned controversial. The latest estimate from the Agency for Health Care Administration is $3 billion.

Negron says one of the state’s goals will be to get a good estimate, but it will never be “a perfect number.”

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.