House panel OKs Medicaid expansion alternative

April 20, 2013 

Associated PressTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The budget panel of the Florida House on Friday advanced a smaller state-funded health insurance plan for Florida's needy rather than a federally funded Medicaid expansion.The House Appropriations committee cleared the Florida Health Choices Plus bill (HB 7169) on a party-line 16-8 vote.

But the House proposal still is at odds with two competing proposals: Sen. Joe Negron's plan that uses federal dollars and gives residents vouchers to purchase their own private insurance; and Sen. Aaron Bean's less comprehensive plan that passes up federal dollars like the House.

Gov. Rick Scott -- who favors Medicaid expansion -- has expressed support for Negron's plan, saying that passing on federal funds and ponying up state dollars for health coverage puts a double burden on Florida taxpayers.

Friday's vote was after Rep. Mia Jones, a Jacksonville Democrat, pushed her own plan that would have insured more poor Floridians -- up to 1.1 million -- and used federal money.

She spoke of her late sister-in-law, who got cancer and couldn't work; she lost her job-related health insurance and wound up on Medicaid, which enabled her to continue treatment.

"I know there are hundreds of thousands of Floridians in the same situation," Jones said. Her proposal was voted down by Republicans.

House Republicans have been united behind House Speaker Will Weatherford in refusing federal dollars linked to the Affordable Care Act.

Weatherford has said he doesn't believe federal officials will honor their pledge to pay 100 percent of the program for the first three years and 90 percent after that. Moreover, he believes it contributes to the federal government's habit of spending more than it takes in.

A Medicaid expansion would cover up to 1.1 million residents. The state-funded plan, sponsored by freshman Rep. Travis Cummings, an Orange Park Republican, would cover 115,000 residents. The first year's costs were approved by the committee at nearly $25 million.

Cummings' plan uses state money to give residents $2,000 a year to choose their own private insurance plans through the Florida Health Choices program. It offers coverage to parents, caretakers and disabled adults making below 100 percent of the poverty level -- $23,550 for a family of four.

Enrollees will pay $25 a month -- which critics said many poor people won't be able to afford -- and those who aren't disabled are subject to a "reasonable work requirement."

The Obama administration has sought to offer health insurance to more Americans by extending the Medicaid eligibility levels to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level; Jones's plan went up to 133 percent.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, asked Republicans to help as many as possible: "Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, cancer is cancer ... It's not partisan."

With 28 percent of the state budget going to Medicaid, jointly funded by the states and federal government, something's got to change, said Rep. Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican.

"The question before you is, are you going to take care of your constituents, or not?" he said. He voted for the Cummings plan.

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