News from Tallahassee for 11/22/14

Dudek: Nursing Home Push May Spur Suits posted on 11/20/14

by ABE ABORAYA | Health News Florida

There’s a shortage of nursing home beds in Florida, and companies are flooding the state with applications to build. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, courts may have to sort out the winners and losers.

It’s been 13 years since the Florida Legislature put a hold on building new nursing home beds because of rising costs in the state budget.

That moratorium expired this year, and 163 companies are competing to build more 3,100 new nursing home beds in Florida.

Competition will be fierce: The new beds mean the possibility of more than $285 million in revenue statewide.

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth Dudek said it’s the most applications the state has seen in one cycle since the 1990s.

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Senate Democrats promise new push on health care for the poor posted on 11/19/14

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Senate Democrats sound like they’ll be using a variation of the old line from President Clinton’s first campaign: “It’s Medicaid expansion, stupid.”

As expected, the 14-member Florida Senate Democratic Caucus on Monday elected Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa to lead them through the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions.

Joyner came out swinging in her opening remarks, taking her Republican colleagues to task for not expanding health insurance for more than 1 million people in the state.

So far, it’s proved an impossible mission: House Republican leaders have steadfastly opposed any such move if it involves taking federal money, and Gov. Rick Scott, who briefly supported expansion last year, has been silent on it since.

Joyner noted after the ceremony that in the Senate, Stuart Republican Joe Negron put forth a Medicaid expansion.

“So I take from that,” she said, “he’d be willing to do it again.”

“We just have to move the House; the heart of the Senate is in the right place,” she added.

Negron sought to help insure more Floridians — those still considered poor but making just enough to put them over the poverty line.

His plan, rejected by the House, would have used more than $50 billion in federal money to distribute private-insurance vouchers to about 1.1 million Floridians.

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ACA Health Premiums Up 10-15% in FL posted on 11/18/14

by ASSOCIATED PRESS AND HEALTH NEWS FLORIDA

The average monthly premiums for Affordable Care Act "silver plans" increased by double digits in most Florida counties for 2015, according to an Associated Press analysis.

In their analysis, AP reporters Mike Schneider in Orlando and Kelli Kennedy in Miami compared premiums after averaging them for all silver plans, without taking subsidies into account.

They used hypothetical customers of three different ages. The results varied. In Florida's largest county, Miami-Dade, the average of silver premiums actually went down. In other South Florida counties, increases were minimal.

But in other areas of the state, especially rural counties, increases were larger, ranging up to 20 percent in the AP analysis.

This analysis, however, doesn't mean the premiums that consumers pay will go up that much.

Last year more than 90 percent of Florida enrollees for the Obamacare coverage received tax credits that subsidized the premium. The tax credit is based on the consumer's income, and since wages have not risen much, subsidies are likely to pay most of the cost again in 2015. So the increase in premiums will mainly affect the federal government's cost for the subsidized premiums.

The Associated Press analysis applies only to uninsured Floridians who are eligible for enrollment on the federal exchange or Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov). It does not apply to the majority of Floridians, who are covered through their workplace or a government plan.

Even without subsidies, it is hard to generalize about premium increases because the amount depends on a person's income, age, county, smoking status, family size and more.

» Read more

Charlotte's Web Rules Tangled In Another Snag posted on 11/18/14

by Nick Evans | WFSU

Florida’s plans allowing certain patients to use low-THC marijuana are in limbo after a recent court ruling. An administrative judge threw out many of the Department of Health’s proposed rules Friday.

Florida’s so-called Charlotte’s Web law directs the Department to have a distribution framework in place by January 1 next year. But Florida Medical Cannabis Association Lobbyist Ron Watson says after Friday’s ruling, the chances of meeting that deadline are increasingly slim.

“Getting to January 1 by actually either having the rules in place, and/or certainly choosing someone by then is going to be very difficult at best,” Watson says. “There is a possibility that it could happen, but I think it’s—that’s a lot of work for the Department of Health to now have go back and re-craft a lot of what the judge said is not allowable.”

When asked for comment Monday, the Department of Health reiterated the statement it issued last week, which says the it will move expeditiously to meet the needs of patients. It’s unclear if the Department plans to appeal the ruling or revise its proposed rules.

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Rules delay brings heartache to families awaiting marijuana oil posted on 11/13/14

by Scott Powers | Orlando Sentinel

Although Amendment 2 failed, Florida still has a limited medical-marijuana program in the works — but it is tied up in a legal dispute while families wait in limbo.

The treatment would be an oil, commonly called "Charlotte's Web," made from a noneuphoric strain of marijuana to treat relentless, intractable seizures in children.

The state Department of Health in August established rules for making the product available, planning to have everything in place by Sept. 30 so it could award growers' licenses in time for an early 2015 crop.

However, several big, potential cannabis growers expressed strong disagreement over how the state planned to select and license companies, and filed formal protests.

A ruling on the issue, from Judge W. David Watkins of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, has been expected for weeks and is due no later than Tuesday. He could order the state to rewrite the rules, adding months to the timetable.

The delay is frustrating for some of the thousands of families in Florida, such as the Holls of Longwood, who want the chance to try the oil. Their adult daughter Megan has violent seizures that arrested her mental development as a 2-year-old.

» Read more

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