Senate Republicans pitch Medicaid expansion alternative


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Senate Democrats and Republican voiced support on Thursday for a proposal to subsidize private insurance policies for low-income families as an alternative to expanding Medicaid.

The new program, called Healthy Florida, would be largely paid for with the $55 billion the federal government offered the state to expand Medicaid.

While supporting the idea, senators also beat back against critics, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, who have warned against using federal funding at all.

Both the plan and the money are needed because Florida families hang in the balance, said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

“If people are going to stand up and say don’t accept any federal dollars, then I hope they will stand up and say don’t accept any federal dollars for transportation, don’t accept any federal dollars for Early Steps and disabled. Don’t accept any federal dollars for the existing Medicaid plan,” Gardiner said.

The plan is still weeks away from a full vote in the Senate and must be approved by both the House and the federal government. Gov. Rick Scott signaled that he supports the compromise.

House leaders, meanwhile, say they will offer their own alternative. They have not as of yet.

“Our goal is as soon as possible, but there’s not a date,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Trinity Republican who chairs the committee studying the health care law. “The deadline is doing it right.”

The Senate budget committee agreed Thursday to sponsor the Medicaid expansion alternative, SB 7038, and members said they will continue to work together to smooth out rough edges.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said that while Democrats preferred using federal funding to expand Medicaid, they will work with Republicans on a “Plan B.”

“I cautiously support, today, this first step,” Smith said.

Floridians making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,000 a year for single adults, would be eligible for the new program. Up to 1 million people could enroll eventually.

According to the Senate plan, Healthy Florida would open in January 2014. State analysts say that about 438,000 are expected to enroll initially at a cost of $1.26 billion. The federal government is expected to pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years.

Sen. Joe Negron, the plan’s architect, wants participants to pay premiums and minimal co-pays for various medical services. Negron, R-Stuart, said that could offset about $120 million in potential costs.

He envisions a system with one set of premiums and co-pays for people who earn less and another set of premiums and co-pays for people who earn more.

Negron said he hopes the plan — if approved — replaces Medicaid for all Floridians one day.

“My ultimate goal would be that no one would be in traditional Medicaid program, everyone would be in private health insurance plans and that we would use those funds for premium assistance,” he said.

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