News from Tallahassee for 10/22/14

Amendment 2 fight gets into rhetorical weeds posted on 10/20/14

by Jerome R. Stockfish | Tampa Tribune

TAMPA — On Nov. 4, voters will determine whether Florida becomes the 24th state and the first in the South to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program.

After failing to get the state Legislature to place the measure on the ballot, advocates for medical pot took to the streets, exceeding the 683,000 petition signatures needed to put the issue to voters and, if approved, write it into the Florida Constitution.

Early polls suggested strong voter support for medical marijuana — beyond the 60 percent required for passage — but the numbers have dwindled and the campaign has grown more polarized.

Each side has a deep-pocketed donor keeping television ads and news releases cycling through the election.

The issue is cast as a compassionate way to treat pain and suffering by one side, and by the other, as the opening of a Pandora’s box that cannot be controlled.

Advocates and opponents are parsing the language of the brief ballot summary that voters will see before coloring in the circle for “yes” or “no.” Here is a review of what’s behind those five sentences.

“Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”

A key argument when the Florida Supreme Court contemplated the ballot proposal — the court reviews every constitutional amendment to ensure it covers a single subject and that the language is not misleading — was the contention that this first sentence is a ruse to permit much wider use.

In the full text of the amendment, spelling out in 1,600 words what would become Article X, Section 29 of the state constitution, a debilitating medical condition is defined as a series of diseases including cancer, positive HIV status, multiple sclerosis “or any other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

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CDC to Talk Ebola with Florida Hospitals posted on 10/20/14

by AP

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will hold a conference call today on Ebola preparedness and training with Florida hospitals.

Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday that the call scheduled Monday afternoon will provide guidance for proper use of personal protective equipment, safe handling of medical waste and effective clinical strategies within hospitals.

Late Friday, the CDC approved a request from state health officials to redirect $7 million from federal grants to buy full body suits for health care workers who may have contact with any potential victims of the virus.

Scott, who is in a tight race for re-election against former Gov. Charlie Crist, has been critical of the CDC's response and has repeatedly stressed measures he's taking to prevent a possible crisis in Florida.

Despite rhetoric in marijuana debate, Legislature controls its safety posted on 10/13/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Here's the little secret neither side of the Amendment 2 debate over medical marijuana is talking about: The Florida Legislature controls its fate.

You don't hear it from opposition groups, who warn that legalizing medical marijuana would endanger children, spawn pot shops on every street corner and become the state's next pill mill fiasco. That would happen only if the conservative Florida Legislature decided not to impose strict rules on who obtained the marijuana, who distributed it, and under what conditions.

You don't hear it from proponents, as the United for Care campaign rolls onto college campuses, riding on the hopes of medically needy Floridians and wishful recreational pot smokers.

Access to medical cannabis for those groups wouldn't be easy either if the Legislature put in place a tightly controlled cultivation and dispensing system similar to one it adopted this year when it legalized noneuphoric strains of cannabis.

And what's to stop lawmakers from doing any of this and more if the amendment passes?

"Nothing," said Jon Mills, former Democratic House speaker and a constitutional lawyer who wrote the proposed amendment. "The Legislature can do anything that is not inconsistent with the Constitution."

The proposed amendment, he said, prevents the Legislature from creating a barrier to access for patients diagnosed with the nine debilitating ailments listed, or others who meet the requirements of the law. But he noted that it allows lawmakers to establish a protocol for determining what diseases are eligible for treatment and to put in place rules that keep the public safe.

Mills and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican, headed a bipartisan panel of law enforcement, medical and government experts who recently proposed 56 ideas — from doctor certification to treatment center access and product testing — that they said legislators should implement if the amendment passes.

"The Legislature could require package labeling with potency and dosage,'' Mills said. "It could require all plants to be tested and certified, and it could place restrictions on distributors, on caregivers, on growers and doctors.''

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Scott, Crist Weigh in on Medicaid Expansion posted on 10/13/14

by AP

If former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist gets his old job back, he promises to expand Medicaid to roughly 1 million low-income residents by calling a special session of the Legislature or through an executive order. If Gov. Rick Scott is re-elected, the decision will be once again left to the Legislature with little meddling from him.

The debate over Medicaid expansion, a key part of President Barack Obama's health law, has been contentious in the campaign leading up to the Nov. 4 election. The Sunshine State has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country. That pent-up demand was clear as nearly 1 million Floridians bought private insurance through the federal health marketplace when it opened a year ago. But another million fell into a gap: too poor to qualify for tax credits in the marketplace, yet earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs for three years — about $50 billion over 10 years — and start phasing down to 95 percent in 2017. Scott and state Republicans have rejected the measure amid concerns that the feds will not make good on that promise, leaving the state on the hook for the tab.

Crist, who brings up the topic on most campaign stops, says one of the first things he'll do if elected is call a special session, although it's unlikely the Republican-controlled Legislature would cooperate. Crist was a Republican when he became governor in 2006, but became an independent before running for the U.S. Senate in 2010. He is now a Democrat.

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Streamlined Marketplace Site Unveiled posted on 10/9/14

by JULIE APPLEBY | KAISER HEALTH NEWS

Consumers using the federal healthcare.gov website when open enrollment begins next month should expect a faster website with a shorter application form and features making it easier to use on mobile devices, Obama administration officials said Wednesday.

In a briefing with reporters, they showed off a live version of the updated site and said it has already been used to enroll about 20,000 people.

Still, they did not promise that the website will be glitch-free when it opens for purchases on Nov. 15.

Nonetheless, the administration is focused on “everyone having a good consumer experience,” said Andrew Slavitt, the principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Last year, the website’s debut was disastrous: Consumers could not start or complete their applications and faced almost daily website crashes. Problems lasted for months before experts were able to stabilize the system. Eventually, more than 7 million people enrolled and paid premiums on their policies.

This year, the administration officials said they have spent far more time — five and half weeks — testing the revamped website, rather than the 10 days they tested it before last year’s launch. The most intense testing began this week and officials said full “load testing” — determining how many consumers the site can handle at one time — won’t begin in earnest until late October.

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