News from Tallahassee for 3/4/15

Growers, parents, docs all unhappy with rolling out of medical pot law posted on 3/3/15

by Christine Stapleton | Palm Beach Post

Growers of marijuana and parents of disabled children who want the drug on the market as soon as possible expressed frustration Monday with Florida’s proposed rule for regulating the business side of growing and selling a drug that remains mostly illegal.

More than a dozen speakers — many growers hoping to become one of five selected to provide the drug — picked apart the Department of Health’s application and scoring process and posed hypothetical business situations they say are not addressed by the rule.

Parents and a physician who specializes in treating children with severe seizure disorders countered, saying safe drugs — not the bottom line — should be the growers’ goal. “We do want to keep the focus on the patients, not businesses,” said Dr. Ngoc Minh Le, an Orlando doctor who specializes in pediatric epilepsy. “I hear all this whining and complaining this morning and it’s really a joke.”

The comments from growers, parents, doctors and lawyers came at a public hearing in Tallahassee — the fifth — on how to implement the law legalizing the non-euphoric medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web.

Most of the complaints and questions focused on the application process and that scorecard that health officials will use to select the five companies that will be allowed to grow, process and distribute the new pot product in Florida.

Gary Knipe, managing director of Aris Horticulture in Alva, said he was concerned about the requirement that lenders and mortgage holders be notified about the nursery growing marijuana. “Conventional banking does not embrace this industry,” Knipe said.

Patricia Nelson, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use, said proof of the grower’s financial stability was necessary to ensure a constant supply of the low-THC oil for patients throughout the state.

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GOP Has Plan If Health Subsidies Lost posted on 3/3/15

by AP

Congressional Republicans sent a message Monday that they hope the Supreme Court and voters will hear: They have ideas to keep the country's health care system from crumbling if the justices obliterate a bedrock feature of President Barack Obama's heath care law.

The plans — one set from three GOP House chairmen, another from three top Republican senators — were far from legislative proposals, lacked detail and left many unanswered questions. They were released in the run-up to Wednesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court in a case in which Republicans and conservatives are challenging federal subsidies that help millions of Americans afford health coverage under Obama's 2010 law.

In an opinion article scheduled for Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, the House chairmen said they were working on a proposal that would let states abandon crucial requirements imposed by Obama's statute.

That included dropping that law's mandates that many employers provide insurance for workers and that many individuals purchase coverage or face fines. Obama and his Democratic supporters have argued that without those requirements, many would wait until they were sick to buy policies, fewer people would be covered and the nation's health insurance market would be destabilized.

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5 things to watch Monday at the Florida Legislature posted on 3/2/15

by Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- Monday is the calm before the storm: the day before the start of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch in Florida’s Capitol:

• The date of Florida’s 2016 presidential primary will be debated in the House Rules Committee as the panel considers a bill to set the date for March 15 to comply with national political party rules. The nation’s biggest swing state could play a bigger role in 2016 with the expected candidacies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

• Stores in poor areas with few grocery stores could reap a “food desert” tax credit under a bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee. That’s desert, not dessert. The bill (SB 610), by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, could benefit chains such as CVS and Walgreen’s if they collect at least 20 percent of their gross receipts from sales of fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat products.

• The Department of Health will try again to set up a regulatory framework for nurseries to enter Florida’s pot-for-profit industry under a 2014 law that allows limited medical marijuana use for patients with severe spasms or cancer. The first proposed rule was tossed out by a hearing officer and an attorney for the Legislature says the new rule is too vague.

• The day before the start of the session is the last day lawmakers can solicit and collect campaign contributions from lobbyists and their clients until the session ends. Dozens of them will have receptions, the Republican Party of Florida holds a fund-raiser, and Senate Democrats host a “drink, drop and dash” reception at the Governor’s Club. The “drop” refers to checks of up to $1,000 each.

• Associated Industries of Florida, a lobby group for business, holds its traditional pre-session reception for lawmakers from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at its headquarters north of the Capitol. Platinum-level sponsors include Duke Energy, Florida Blue, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar, and invitations carry a note that because of Florida’s gift ban, legislators have to pay their own way at $25 a ticket.

Governor's budget cuts funding for hundreds of health care workers posted on 3/2/15

by Michael Auslen | Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — Nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers are among hundreds of health care positions that would be cut under Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget.

Nearly 60 percent of the 1,353 positions eliminated in the governor's budget released last month would come from the Florida Department of Health, an agency whose mission is, "To protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida."

Records show that under Scott's plan, the department would lose funding for 758 positions in the 2015-16 fiscal year, roughly 5 percent of its workforce under the current budget. Department spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said most of those positions are currently unfilled.

"The Florida Department of Health streamlined processes and administrative efficiencies, which resulted in the reduction of 758 positions, more than 500 of which are vacant," Cowie said in a statement. The nearly 200 layoffs in the department will be administrative and not directly affect county health departments or any doctors who see patients, the governor's office said.

Cowie insisted "no department services or readiness capabilities will be interrupted."

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Billions at Stake as State, Feds Negotiate Medicaid posted on 2/27/15

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

When the 2015 legislative session begins next week, many of the state’s decisions on health care for the poor are on hold as state and federal Medicaid officials negotiate over funding, behind closed doors. Billions of dollars are at stake.

When it comes to health-care funding, Florida’s in a funny position. The state has twice turned down billions of dollars from federal Medicaid that would have covered care for about a million poor Floridians.

This year may be no different.

"I don't believe for one moment that this is a good plan for Florida and I would certainly not change my opinion on that,," said State Representative Matt Hudson, who chairs the powerful committee in charge of health spending.

At the same time, state legislators and Governor Rick Scott want federal officials to keep a special fund for hospitals that treat those same patients. It's called the Low Income Pool.

It may seem inconsistent, but that's health-care politics in Florida.

Justin Senior, Florida’s Medicaid director, is watching the calendar as he negotiates with federal health officials over renewing the Low Income Pool. It expires June 30.

“In order for us to make any plans for expenditures on July 1 of this year we really do need agreement in principle from our federal partners sometime in late March or very early April,” he said.

The Medicaid budget that Governor Scott recently sent to the Legislature includes more than $1 billion for the Low Income Pool. But federal Medicaid chief Eliot Fishman told business leaders in Orlando recently that the Low Income Pool – which he calls LIP -- will not be renewed in its present form.

“We extended the LIP for a year with the explicit purpose of moving to a significantly reformed payment system," Fishman said at the Associated Industries of Florida's Health Care Affordability Summit.

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