State Politics

Medicaid divides Florida Senate

TALLAHASSEE — Major changes in Florida’s Medicaid program, including a first step toward using private insurers through a voucher system, are part of a nearly $70 billion budget bill and related legislation passed Wednesday by the Senate.

The budget bill (SB 2700) passed unanimously, but the chamber was divided over a provision directing state health care officials to seek a Medicaid rule waiver from the federal government that would allow for the voucher system. It also would let Florida require some Medicaid patients to pay for part of their health care costs for the first time.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, offered the proposal as a way to cut the escalating cost of Medicaid. The state-federal program for low-income and disabled patients is expected to consume $19 billion, or about a quarter, of the next budget. The tab is expected to escalate when the new federal health care law takes full effect at least four years from now by expanding Medicaid income eligibility from 100 percent to 133 percent of the poverty level, Negron said.

— Associated Press