News from Tallahassee for 7/31/14

Medical-pot growers could truck product to patients, new rule says posted on 7/31/14

by DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSE — Florida marijuana dispensers could truck their product to patients, under a revised rule proposed by health regulators in advance of a workshop Friday about the state's legalization of a limited type of medical pot.

Despite complaints by nursery owners, lobbyists and others at a rule-making workshop earlier this month, health officials aren't backing away from a lottery-based system to choose the recipients of the five licenses planned. The competition is drawing operators and investors from around the world.

Kerry Herndon, owner of Kerry's Nursery in Apopka, blasted health officials for keeping the lottery provision in the proposed rule.

"It's a disaster for the patient population. You're making medicine for sick children. So it's like anybody at random within the pool and not the most qualified? Really?" said Herndon, whose nursery is eligible for one of the licenses and who is interested in pursuing one.

The state has until Jan 1. to come up with the regulations regarding a strain of marijuana, authorized by the Republican-dominated Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year, that purportedly does not get users high but can alleviate life-threatening seizures in children with severe epilepsy.

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Insurers: 2015 Exchange Rates Likely to Spike posted on 7/31/14

by AP

State insurance officials are preparing to release figures next week on how much health plans will cost under the Affordable Care Act for 2015, and rate increases seem inevitable as insurers say their new consumers are older and sicker than anticipated.

Top executives at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and Cigna said rate increases are likely, but declined specifics. Humana proposed an average 14.1 percent increase for its HMOs, saying the increase was driven by factors including increased prescription drug costs and doctor and hospital reimbursements. However, Molina has proposed an 11.6 percent average rate decrease.

Critics of the health overhaul warned of huge rate increases, a signal they say shows the law isn't working. But rates have risen as much as 20 or 30 percent in recent years and early filing from insurers in other states suggest the 2015 increases won't be as dramatic.

Meanwhile, insurers say that even though the nearly 1 million Florida enrollees include many who are older with chronic conditions, the marketplace is still ripe for profits.

Brian Evanko, president of Cigna's U.S. individual market, said the company anticipates financial losses from the exchange in 2014, but "we expect over time that as things tend to shake out this could be a very attractive market for us."

Federal health officials say 91 percent of Florida's 983,775 enrollees received a tax subsidy, 55 percent were female and 45 percent were male. The government and insurance companies have not released data on how many were previously uninsured and no details on their health conditions.

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Florida hit by Obamacare ruling, but subsidies continue posted on 7/23/14

by AP

President Barack Obama’s health care law is enmeshed in another big legal battle after two federal appeals courts issued contradictory rulings on a key financing issue within hours of each other today.

A divided court panel in Washington said financial aid can be paid only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges. That would be a blow to Florida, where Republican lawmakers have shunned the Affordable Care Act and where nearly 1 million enrollees rely on nearly $5 billion in federal help paying for their new health insurance.

About 100 miles south of Washington, in Richmond, Virginia, another appeals court panel unanimously came to the opposite conclusion, ruling that the Internal Revenue Service correctly interpreted the will of Congress when it issued regulations allowing consumers in all 50 states to buy subsidized coverage.

The White House immediately declared that policyholders will keep getting financial aid as the administration sorts out the legal implications. Spokesman Josh Earnest said the decision in Washington would have “no practical impact” on tax credits as the case works its way through the courts.

Both cases are part of a long-running political and legal campaign to overturn Obama’s signature domestic legislation by Republicans and other opponents of the law. In the Washington case, a group of small business owners argued that the law authorizes subsidies only for people who buy insurance through markets established by the states — not by the federal government.

That’s no mere legal distinction, since the federal government is running the markets, or exchanges, in 36 states, including Florida.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported that 983,775 Floridians signed up for health insurance through the federal Florida marketplace. Of that number, 893,655, or 91 percent, receive a tax credit.

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State corrects errors in its lawsuit against VA posted on 7/23/14

by staff | tampa bay times

The state has filed an amended lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs that deletes several significant errors about a patient offered as an example of the poor care veterans receive in agency hospitals.

The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that the suit made several errors in the case of veteran Roland "Dale" Dickerson, a Largo resident who believes the VA failed to treat his serious coronary blockages in a timely manner.

The suit said Dickerson tried to get care at St. Petersburg General Hospital and had a procedure showing he had a minimal narrowing of his coronary arteries when, in fact, he had a 69 percent blockage. It noted Dickerson had to get pricey private health insurance to pay for heart surgery at a non-VA hospital.

None of these assertions are true, though a Times review of Dickerson's medical file appeared to support the veteran's belief that the VA delayed critical heart tests for more than two years.

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Court Deals Setback to Health Care Law posted on 7/22/14

by ROBERT PEAR | NY Times

Affordable Care ActWASHINGTON — In a ruling that could upend President Obama’s health care law, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government could not subsidize premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange. The 2-to-1 ruling could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the court said, subsidies are available only to people who obtained insurance through exchanges established by states.

The law “does not authorize the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal exchanges,” said the ruling, by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The law, it said, “plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states.”

Their share of premiums could then increase sharply, making insurance unaffordable for many.

However, the decision is the not the last word, as other courts are weighing the same issue. And the ruling could be reviewed by the full appeals court here.

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