News from Tallahassee for 4/22/14

Scott Administration wants more restrictions on marijuana proposal posted on 4/22/14

by DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE— Gov. Rick Scott and his surgeon general are balking at a proposal headed to the House floor that would open the door for a strain of marijuana that doesn't get users high but is believed to dramatically reduce seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy.

Instead, Scott wants a more limited approach that would put children with "intractable" epilepsy, as well as children and adults with other diseases, into clinical trials for the drug. The trials would require cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or drug companies.

A plan approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday includes language proposed by Scott that would create an "Office of Compassionate Use" within the Department of Health that would "enhance access to investigational new drugs for Florida patients through approved clinical treatment plans or studies." 

"Investigational new drug" studies are the first step in laboratory testing of drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration...

Florida Blue: ACA enrollments “exceeded expectations” but premiums may rise in 2015 posted on 4/22/14

by ANIEL CHANG AND PATRICIA BORNS | Miami Herald

Most of the consumers who bought a private health plan from Florida Blue through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges between October and April were previously uninsured — one of many factors potentially leading to higher premium rates in 2015, according to a senior executive.

Jason Altmire, a former Pennsylvania congressman and now senior vice president of public policy for Florida Blue, cited familiar reasons for a likely rise in rates next year, including the requirement that insurers no longer exclude those with pre-existing conditions, charge equal rates regardless of gender and charge older members no more than three times the amount paid by younger ones.

Other reasons consumers may see higher premiums in 2015, he said, include the Obama administration’s decision to allow Americans to keep their health insurance plans for an additional year even if the plans did not meet the coverage requirements of the health law.

Altmire said that most consumers signed up through the exchange were previously uninsured Americans who may have delayed seeking medical care, making them potentially more costly to insure.

Gaetz Letter Seeks Medicaid 'Flexibility' posted on 4/21/14

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

All session long, Florida's legislative leaders have frustrated advocates for the poor, as well as much of the business community, by declining to talk about the billions of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion that the state is forgoing.

Now Senate President Don Gaetz has reopened the subject in a letter to Sylvia Burwell, nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would replace former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In the letter, dated April 17, Gaetz urged Burwell to give states more authority to design their own programs for the Medicaid expansion population, including about 800,000 low-income adults in Florida. Requiring states to expand Medicaid was the only part of the Affordable Care Act that the Supreme Court blocked; it has resulted in millions of low-income Americans being left uninsured while slightly better-off uninsured people receive subsidies to enroll in a plan.

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.

» Read more

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.

» Read more

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