Legislature doesn’t need to approve increase in doctors’ pay, says spokeswoman


Senate spokeswoman says Legislature doesn’t need to approve higher pay for doctors.

A spokeswoman for incoming Senate President Don Gaetz said Monday that the Legislature does not have to take any action in order for Florida’s primary care doctors to start receiving increased Medicaid payments starting Jan. 1 -- the first time that providers will received direct financial benefits from Obamacare.

That position directly contradicts statements last week from the office of Gov. Rick Scott and from the Agency for Healthcare Administration, which said the Legislature or the Legislative Budget Commission needed to approve the increased payments.

Katie Betta, deputy chief of staff for the senate, told The Herald, “The increased payment is mandatory and the kind of change that can happen automatically. The funding is already included in the base as part of the outlook and the estimating conference. This is not unlike other examples of mandatory changes that were implemented automatically.”

Last week, staffers of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington told journalists the same thing: The payments could increase automatically.

On Friday, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said: “AHCA would need additional budget authority to receive the federal funds to pay the increased rates. The LBC has to grant that authority. We are waiting to hear if the LBC will meet in December.”

Earlier, AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said, “The Florida Legislature must provide authority for the Medicaid program to draw down federal funds to cover the fee increase.”

The increased rates are mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Doctors’ groups have long complained that Medicaid rates in Florida are so low that many doctors refuse to treat patients covered by the state-federal insurance for the poor.

The Obama administration wants to increase payments to provide better primary care so that patients don’t wind up in emergency rooms, where care is far more expensive, and to increase the number of doctors willing to take Medicaid as the program expands in 2014.

Scott sent a letter to Washington last week, seeking to open negotiations with the Obama administration to find ways to lower healthcare costs — something Scott says the reform act does not do.

Gaetz believes that federal healthcare reform is likely to be such an extensive topic that he announced Monday in a letter to senators that he intends to set up a Senate Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Gaetz has said he favors increased primary care payments but is concerned that Obamacare will end federal support for programs, leaving states with increased costs in the future.

In fact, increased Medicaid payments to doctors sunset in two years, one of the many provisions in the Affordable Care Act that limits federal expenditures as Congress tried to balance expanding healthcare while limiting government costs in an era of huge federal deficits.

For the higher Medicaid payments, an HHS regulation requires the states to collect data about the impact of increased pay to primary care doctors in order to guide federal policy in the future.

Read more Healthcare Reform stories from the Miami Herald

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