Lawmakers could leave Tallahassee with no Medicaid plan after all

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauApril 24, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- As the clock winds down on the legislative session, Florida lawmakers are sending signals they are likely to adjourn without resolving the issue of whether to accept $5 billion in federal Medicaid money to insure the state's poorest residents.

"It's not something you put together in a week," said state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a close adviser to Senate President Don Gaetz. "It's a very big, complicated issue and these issues take some time."

He said he does not expect there will be political repercussions if the Republican-led Legislature waits another year.

"There is no fallout," Thrasher said. "Anytime you walk away from something, there is going to be someone who is not happy. On something like this, however, it needs to be done right."

Business groups, the Florida Hospital Association and the union that represents health care workers have launched television and lobbying efforts to urge lawmakers to implement a plan that draws down the federal money.

If legislators adjourn May 3 as scheduled without resolving the issue, those groups said earlier this week they will pressure lawmakers to resolve the issue before next year.

"This issue doesn't end the last day of session," said Tom Feeney, executive director of Associated Industries of Florida, which represents several hospitals and health care providers. "The pressure continues to build."

Feeney, a former House speaker and congressman from Orlando, believes if legislators fail to resolve the issue the health care industry will work on House Republicans to shift their thinking and find a way to cover 1 million Floridians who could be eligible for coverage.

"Right now it's only the providers in the health industry that are screaming and hollering, but as the ramifications actually kick in, where you're going to have hospital cutbacks and services cutbacks and businesses around the state get their bills for insurance, I think it's going to become increasingly apparent that it makes no sense to walk away from $5 billion a year," he said.

The governor could call lawmakers back into special session, Feeney said, but only if there is a resolution worked out.

The House has firmly refused to budge on its position that it will not accept federal Medicaid money and the Senate has countered with a plan to accept the money but steer it into a privately run program.

That leaves Gov. Rick Scott in the middle. He supports the Senate plan, but wants the state to accept the federal government's offer to pay for 100 percent of Florida's cost for the first three years, and is clearly not ready to back down.

"Both the House and Senate know exactly where I stand,'' Scott told reporters Monday.

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