Senate and House play hot potato with Medicaid bills.

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauApril 30, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Senate effectively rejected Monday the House's alternative to expanding Medicaid, prolonging a stalemate that may prove too difficult to resolve before the legislative session wraps up this week.

Senators took up the House plan Monday, which passed last week, but quickly amended the bill by swapping in their own plan.

The Senate is expected to pass the amended bill and send it back to the House Tuesday.

What happens after that is anyone's guess.

The Senate plan relies on $51 billion in federal funding over 10 years to provide private health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians. The House proposal uses only state money -- up to about $300 million a year -- to provide basic health coverage to 130,000 people.

House members last week criticized the Senate plan as extending the current Medicaid system in the state, a program that they say does not provide quality insurance to low-income Floridians.

State senators fired back Monday.

"Nothing in this bill expands Medicaid," said state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who drafted the Senate plan. "We don't want to expand Medicaid, and we want to have a Florida solution and not a Washington solution."

The Senate proposal has the support of hospitals, business groups such as the Associated Industries of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott. But with House Republicans dug in against accepting federal money, there appears to be little room for compromise.

"I'm very concerned that nothing will happen and $51 billion will be sitting out there for over a million residents of the state of Florida," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the lone Republican in the House to vote to accept federal assistance.

Senators gutted a third alternative Monday that was created as an olive branch to the House.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, stripped his bill so it no longer deals with an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

That leaves two vastly divided chambers, two very different proposals and just four days to bring the divisions together. Scott told reporters Monday he remains optimistic the Legislature will "do the right thing."

"Our choice now is to decide whether we're going to take care of the uninsured," Scott said. "I support Sen. Negron's bill. The House and Senate know exactly where I stand on this."

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