News from Tallahassee for 4/20/14

Free Dental Care Draws Crowd posted on 4/17/14

by lottie watts | Health News Florida

Over two days at the Florida State Fairgrounds, volunteers organized by the Florida Dental Association provided more than $1 million in free services.

When volunteers got there to open the doors on the first day at 5 a.m., there were more than 800 people in line, according to association president Terry Buckenheimer. By the end of the event, volunteers served 1,660 patients.

"It was inspiring in a way because we knew we were doing something that was needed. The bad thing is we know it's needed, so it was a good and a bad feeling,” Buckenheimer said. “But to be here to serve the people and for them to say, ‘thank you, god bless you,’ it was very meaningful for everybody."

Stella Mikesell of Brandon got to the fairgrounds at about 4:30 a.m. on March 28, and she didn’t expect the line to be as long as it was. By the afternoon, Mikesell had one tooth filled, another pulled. Her teeth were hurting, but she didn’t have dental insurance to help pay the bill.

"I had it for three years, and then I got laid off on Jan. 6, and then they asked me to come back on Feb. 6, but my insurance had gotten canceled in the meanwhile,” Mikesell said.

Her employer offers dental insurance, but she’s still waiting for it to kick in.

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CBO sees lower costs for Affordable Care Act insurance provisions posted on 4/15/14

by KEVIN G. HALL | MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON -- The Affordable Care Act’s insurance coverage provisions will be less costly to the federal budget than first projected and premiums for a key health plan are expected to rise by about 6 percent a year, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Updating estimates issued in February, the non-partisan CBO said the cost to the federal government for the insurance provisions is $5 billion less than thought earlier this year. From 2015 through 2024, the provisions should prove $104 billion less costly. That’s 7 percent below earlier projections.

The falling cost projections from the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation of Congress are due in part to further analysis of retirement trends and of the health plans being offered on the public exchanges created to help individuals buy health insurance.

The new projections and other provisions of the ACA on net “are expected to reduce budget deficits,” the CBO said, repeating an earlier prediction that the act, shorthanded as Obamacare, will result in deficits being lower than they would be in the absence of the landmark legislation.

Deeper in the CBO’s report, however, are details that show why the ACA is such a hard sell to the public.

The CBO now thinks that the benchmark premium, derived from the second lowest-cost plan offered on health exchanges, will rise slightly next year and then by about 6 percent a year from 2016 to 2024. Opponents of the ACA are sure to call that a rising cost for consumers, and remind of President Barack Obama’s pledge that the ACA would result in lower premiums for most Americans.

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Health Bill 'Train' on Its Way posted on 4/11/14

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

The Florida House Health & Human Services Committee passed a megabill Thursday morning that combines three prickly issues, in the hope that packaging them will make it harder for the Senate to kill or maim any of them.

HB 7113 would protect private for-profit trauma centers, allow for independent practice for nurse practitioners and allow out-of-state doctors to participate in telehealth without a Florida license. The Florida Medical Association opposes the latter two.

Such a package is sometimes called a "train" in legislative parlance. The idea of a train is that it's a bunch of connected railcars, and it would be hard to remove one of them without causing them all to derail. As a practical matter, it means some lawmakers have to accept a proposal they don't like in order to get one they really want. One of the creators of the telehealth legislation acknowledged as much.

"It was not my choice for all these things to be in the same bill," said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. "We're going to take some good and some bad and move forward."

A few minutes later, the process was replayed as another combo bill rolled out of the committee. HB 573 heightens oversight of assisted-living centers, allows visitation for grandparents, and enables outpatient surgery centers to expand their services as "recovery care" centers.

The first two parts of that combo brought no opposition to speak of. Disagreement was saved for the third, as both hospitals and nursing homes foresee the loss of some paying patients.

But their lobbyists didn't get to say much. HHS Committee Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, limited public testimony to one minute per speaker, saying the committee had a lot to cover during this, its last meeting.

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Bill Cuts Crisis-Unit Funds posted on 4/10/14

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

Every time there is a mass shooting, everyone agrees there should be more focus on identifying and treating persons with emergency mental health problems.

But a mental-health bill up that comes up this week in Senate Appropriations would have the opposite result, according to consumer groups in mental health.

"We call it the 'Nightmare of the Senate'," said Maggie Labarta, clinical psychologist and CEO of Meridian Behavioral Health Care in Gainesville.

SB 1726, by the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, is on the agenda for Thursday's Senate Appropriations Committee. It was introduced only recently, March 27, and has moved fast.

Florida Partners in Crisis, a non-profit supported by judges as well as treatment providers, sent out a "Call to Action" about the bill (originally SB 7122) on Monday, asking consumer advocates to call members of the Appropriations Committee to oppose the bill.

It would have the effect of taking away some of the money now going to support "crisis stabilization units" and giving it to hospitals. Crisis units take in patients undergoing a mental-health crisis who appear voluntarily or are brought in under the Baker Act because they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Some hospitals are also licensed as Baker Act receiving facilities, and they want some of the money that has been going to crisis units to cover the cost of treating the uninsured.

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Controversial abortion bill moves forward posted on 4/9/14

by News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are moving forward with a controversial proposal that would place additional restrictions on abortions, largely barring the procedures if doctors determine that fetuses have reached viability.

The House is expected to take up its version of the proposal (HB 1047) Wednesday, while the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Senate version (SB 918) on Tuesday in a party-line vote.

Under current law, abortions in most cases are barred during the third trimester of pregnancy. But the bills would require that physicians conduct examinations before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable. If viability is reached, abortions would generally not be allowed — a change that the bills' supporters say could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy.

The supporters point to medical advances that have enabled premature babies to survive more often. Florida law places the third trimester as the time after the 24th week of pregnancy.

"Because of medical advances, there are babies that are being born at 20, 21, 19 weeks," said Senate sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

But the proposed restrictions drew intense debate Tuesday, with Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, saying the legislation "ties the hands" of physicians.

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