A Senate panel on Thursday introduced a proposal to broaden Medicaid coverage to about 1 million low-income Florida residents through a privatized plan that would use money available under the federal health care law.
While Senate and House Republicans have refused Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation that Florida expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said his Healthy Florida proposal would cover the same needy population under a privatized plan already in play in Florida and still be fully financed by the federal government for three years.
“We want to have a Florida plan, not a Washington plan,” Negron told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The legislation (SPB 7038) won support Thursday from the Florida Hospital Association and other health care advocates and could get its first committee vote next week, likely setting in motion an end-of-session duel with the House over health coverage. While not yet ruling out taking the federal cash, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has spent much time this session attacking the federal health program.
The Healthy Florida plan would build on Healthy Kids, a program created under late-Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles that serves 250,000 children, aged 5-18. Parents pay $15-$20 monthly for health coverage for their children and can choose from at least a couple of private health plans available in each of Florida’s 67 counties.
Negron would reposition Healthy Kids to also allow the adults who could be eligible under the health care law option that provides more money to states expanding Medicaid to families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level. That would add about 1 million adults and children in Florida.
Florida stands to draw $51 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years through an expansion, while state taxpayers would pay $3.5 billion and nothing in the first three years.
Negron told the Senate panel Thursday that lengthy review by the Obama administration is unnecessary and that Healthy Florida is almost certain to win approval. People who need it would have health insurance by January 2014, he predicted.
Senators said the fortified program — which Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, called “Healthy Kids on steroids” — would require patients to pay some kind of fee.
Karen Woodall, who lobbies for organizations that help low-income Floridians, said even modest fees can discourage low-income Floridians from seeking health care for themselves or their children.
But Negron said the $2 fees Healthy Florida envisions charging for many routine services would not stop people from seeing a doctor or going to the hospital when they’re sick.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said it didn’t make sense for lawmakers to be considering rejecting federal money. If that was the case, he said, opponents should also turn back federal dollars for transportation and other needed services.
“For this Senate, we are going to have a plan,” Gardiner said. “And Sen. Negron, you have given us the blueprint for that plan.”