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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Fla. House, Senate negotiating Medicaid compromise

TALLAHASSEE - Florida House and Senate leaders are negotiating a deal that would use state and federal dollars to offer health coverage to thousands of uninsured Floridians under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, according to a person close to the talks.
The state would use federal funds to cover more vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and the disabled, and would pony up state funds to offer more limited health coverage to about 300,000 childless adults and roughly 57,000 adult parents, giving the latter groups a set amount to purchase private insurance. House leaders have argued that childless adults, who are mostly men, are more expensive to cover.
The person told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the proposal has not yet been agreed to and even if the House and Senate strike a deal, it would still need approval from federal health officials. The person requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly about the talks.
If federal health officials do not agree, the person familiar with the negotiations said the bill would include a back-up plan that would automatically kick in and use state funds to provide health insurance for the pregnant women, disabled and others perceived as being more vulnerable among the uninsured. The person said the state has already had discussion with the feds about the potential compromise.
The potential compromise is a huge step between the House and Senate, which have been far apart on Medicaid expansion with less than two weeks left in the Legislative session. House Speaker Will Weatherford and many House Republicans have been adamantly opposed to any proposal that would accept federal money tied to Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Weatherford insisted late Wednesday that the House will not accept any compromise that relies on federal money because the federal government will only approve an “all or nothing” approach.
“We never say that our way is the only way, but if the only compromise is to taking $7 billion of federal funds that is unsustainable to give health care to everyone…we don't think that's compromise,” Weatherford said.
When asked about a scaled-back plan that only used federal money for a portion of the uninsured Weatherford contended it wasn't possible.
“That's not our understanding about what the law is,” he said.
A plan by Sen. Joe Negron was approved by the Senate's budget panel Monday and has gained rare support from diverse group including the business community, labor advocates and health care providers. Negron's plan would provide health coverage to roughly 1.1 million Floridians, drawing down more than $50 billion in federal funds over the next decade and giving that money to residents to purchase private health insurance. Gov. Rick Scott has also repeatedly praised Negron's proposal.
House Republicans, however, have rejected any proposal that would accept money tied to the so-called “Obamacare.” The House has advanced its own plan, which would provide health coverage to about 115,000 residents, using $237 million in state funds to give recipients $2,000 a year to choose their own private insurance plans. That plan will be discussed on the House floor Thursday and is slated for a vote Friday.
The Obama administration has sought to offer health insurance to more Americans by extending the Medicaid eligibility levels to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. But the House plan only address residents making at or below 100 percent. That's roughly $11,000 a year for a single person and about $19,500 for family of three.
The federal government has agreed to pay the entire bill for the expanded Medicaid population for the first three years and will pay 90 percent after that. That's more than the roughly 50 percent match the feds currently pay for Medicaid recipients.
The House and Senate rejected a straight out Medicaid expansion early in the session, saying they did not want to expand upon an already broken system.
Scott would not answer directly if he was involved in discussions regarding a compromise, saying only “there's a lot of conversations going on.”
He repeated his insistence Wednesday that rejecting federal funds and ponying up state dollars for health coverage puts a double burden on Florida taxpayers
“We have a choice whether we want to cover individuals that don't have care right now,” Scott said.
In hopes of ending a legislative stalemate, House Republican Rep. Mike Fasano also sponsored an amendment Wednesday that would bring the House proposal in line with the Senate bill.
Last week, Fasano, R-New Port Richey, proposed a similar amendment, which a House committee promptly shot down.
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