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News from Tallahassee for 7/24/14
Florida hit by Obamacare ruling, but subsidies continue posted on 7/23/14
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.
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.
Court Deals Setback to Health Care Law posted on 7/22/14
by ROBERT PEAR | NY Times
WASHINGTON — 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.
State Cracks Down on Medicaid Marketing posted on 7/22/14
State health officials are taking a cue from past problems and are banning health insurance companies from marketing their plans directly to Medicaid consumers as the state is rolling out a massive overhaul by transitioning millions into managed care.
Insurance companies are allowed to market to consumers under the contracts, but only if the state gives prior approval. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration isn't approving any marketing events at this time.
State health officials have approved insurers' billboards, radio, bus stop ads and brochures at doctor's offices, but marketing at events like health fairs or any interaction where insurers are talking directly with consumers is forbidden for now.
Medical marijuana: Florida’s new business boom posted on 7/21/14
by AUDRA D.S. BURCH | Miami Herald
Before the sun set over the rows of palms and ferns and hibiscus that Thursday, Chuck Buster had heard from a half dozen friends, all calling to tell him that his next venture could be in Florida’s medical marijuana business.
For more than three decades, the co-owner of Alpha Foliage has tilled the Homestead earth near the southern tip of Florida, raising tropical foliage season after season. But a rising drumbeat to bring medical marijuana to Florida, plus a Legislature that relented on the last day of the lawmaking session last spring have combined to create a potential new business boom for nursery owners such as Buster.
What he learned on that Thursday in May was that his nursery qualified as a potential pot growing location. So with 300 acres at his disposal and 30 years of experience in the foliage business, Buster suddenly found himself poised to enter the legal pot business.
He’s far from alone. Alpha Foliage is one of 50 veteran nurseries, including 12 based in South Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County, eligible to compete to become one of five regional growers. That has fueled a frenzy of callers — ganja-preneurs, investors, technology companies — looking to partner with an eligible nursery in what will become Florida’s newest legal crop, a limited, low-THC form of marijuana for medical purposes. It will be used for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer.
“I started getting all these inquiries as to whether I had any interest in partnering in a marijuana growing operation,” said Buster, as he surveyed the growing list of agricultural companies from the town of Havana in North Florida to Homestead, that met the criteria of operating for at least 30 years and having an inventory of 400,000 plants. “Everybody is trying to be a part of this.”
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