News from Tallahassee for 3/28/15

PPP Poll: Floridians support Medicaid expansion, marriage equality posted on 3/27/15

by Scott Powers | Orlando Sentinel

A new poll from Public Policy Polling finds Floridians strongly support the idea of expanding Medicaid in the state to capture federal money and close the coverage gap, an option the Legislature has resisted.

The poll also finds Floridians are OK with gay marriage, almost ready to adopt a medical marijuana Constitutional amendment, and open to moving gubernatorial elections to line up with presidential elections...

The Medicaid findings may send a signal to the Florida Legislature, which is again considering a Senate proposal to expand the state's Medicaid program. But the Senate plan appears to not have enough support for approval in the House of Representatives.

The issue is tied to Obamacare -- because the federal Medicaid expansion plan was included in the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion was offered to states as part of the Obama administration's strategy to expand coverage of uninsured people, but it also comes with a big federal price tag. In Florida it would provide health care coverage to more than 800,000 uninsured people, and bring in more than $51 billion in federal money over the next few years to pay for it, but would also start shifting those cost to Florida in the later years.

Like Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion has sharply divided the parties, and that shows up in the PPP poll too.

Overall, 58 percent of Florida voters said they would support the expansion, Only 26 percent of voters said they opposed the deal. Democratic voters overwhelming support it, 82 percent to six percent. Independent voters support it 57 percent to 29 percent. Republican voters oppose it 33 percent to 45 percent...

Gay marriage, legalized by court cases last year and initiated in January, appears OK with Florida voters even though they approved a statewide ban seven years ago. The poll found 81 percent said the marriage equality move either had a positive impact on their lives or no impact at all, with just 20 percent claiming that it's affected them negatively.

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Big gap between Senate, House budgets centers on health care posted on 3/26/15

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

U.S. Dollar puzzleTALLAHASSEE — The $4.2 billion gap between Senate and House spending plans came into sharp focus Wednesday as state lawmakers took widely different approaches on health insurance for low-income Floridians.

Senators pleaded with the House to be more receptive to their proposal that would draw $2.8 billion in federal aid to cover 800,000 low-income Floridians in the coming year. But the House and Gov. Rick Scott have shown no interest in the Florida Health Insurance Exchange.

“’No’ is not a health care policy. ‘No’ is not a solution,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, urging fellow Republican leaders in the House to be open to FHIX discussions in coming weeks.

“I don’t believe there is a chasm that can’t be crossed,” he added.

The Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved an $80.4 billion budget proposal for the 2015-16 year. The House’s approach, OK’d hours later on a 24-4 vote by the House budget committee, is $76.2 billion – slightly less than the state’s current budget.

Both sides would increase public school spending – although not quite to the level sought by Scott.

The House, though, slightly topped Scott’s request for tax cuts by making room for $690 million in tax breaks. That includes cuts to cell phone and television taxes, sales taxes on college textbooks and a variety of business taxes, as well allowances for back-to-school tax-free shopping .

The Senate budget so far accounts for no tax cuts.

“There is a huge chasm between the House and the Senate,” said House Budget Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. “But as we move forward, some of these big issues…will be resolved.”

As the two-month session nears its midpoint, clear differences usually emerge between House and Senate spending plans. But the scope of this year’s dispute goes beyond dollars and dives into deep policy divisions.

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Lawmakers Eye Major Changes In Mental Health Services posted on 3/26/15

by News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — The House and the Senate are proposing major overhauls in mental health services.

All this as Florida lawmakers study the impact of mental illness on the state’s troubled criminal-justice and child-protection systems.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed one such proposal (SB 7068), which would change the way mental-health and substance-abuse services are administered, coordinate them with primary health care and seek to increase Medicaid funding for them.

“The bill will lead to more continuity and less fragmentation of services,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said in a prepared statement. “People suffering from mental illness and substance abuse will receive more effective treatment, and the service delivery system will be more accountable to the taxpayers who fund these important efforts.”

Two House panels, meanwhile, have launched related proposals. On Tuesday, the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee approved a measure (PCB CFSS 15-01) similar to the Senate plan. The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said it was part of a coordinated effort with the House Judiciary Committee to boost the roles of mental health and drug courts in judicial proceedings.

Harrell’s subcommittee also approved a study intended to better serve people with mental illness or substance-abuse disorders.

Mostly, the mental-health proposals drew praise — from those who use the services, their loved ones and professionals in the field.

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The Nurse Will See You Now: Expanded Authority Proposal Gets Moving In Legislature posted on 3/26/15

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

A plan to expand the powers of nurses hasn’t yet caught on in the legislature, but eased out of a House Health panel Wednesday. The fate of bill remains cloudy, but its sponsor says even if it fails this year—the issue isn’t going away.

After initially stalling last week, a bill that would let nurses see patients without having the oversight of doctors, finally got moving Tuesday. House Bill 547 was the final proposal heard by the Health Innovation Subcommittee, and even though lawmakers approved it on a 9-to-4 vote, unclear whether the bill is enough of a priority, or even if it has enough support—to get through the House. Still, Republican Rep. Cary Pigman says he wants fellow lawmakers to hear him out and, “to recognize it’s a work in progress. It’s likely a multi-year work in progress.”

At issue is how much authority nurses and physician assistants should have in medical care. Right now, advanced nurses can see patients but have to be supervised by a doctor. The bill would allow those highly-trained nurses to work independently. It would also give them more prescription drug authority, and allow them to do mental health evaluations under the state’s involuntary confinement, or Baker Act Law. But that’s going too far, says Dr. Allen Pillersdorf, a cosmetic surgeon and President of the Florida Medical Association:

“This is a divisive bill," Pillersdorf said. " If you just look at this room-- we have the doctors, dental and medical students sitting on the left. We have the nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants sitting on the right. This is the wrong direction for medicine, we need to be collaborative.”

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Revised medical marijuana bill moves forward in Florida Senate posted on 3/25/15

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

Florida’s long-delayed effort to make a strain of medical marijuana available to patients could be advanced under a measure (SB 7066) approved Tuesday by a state Senate panel.

Patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, HIV and multiple sclerosis were among those added to the list of eligible users of a marijuana derivative dubbed Charlotte’s Web by the Regulated Industries Committee.

Senators also agreed to changes that advocates say could help end legal challenges that stalled the introduction of the liquid, non-euphoric pot that was supposed to be made available starting Jan. 1.

“We hope this will bring clarity to a muddied situation,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored last year’s legislation and conceded he has been frustrated by the delayed rollout.

The legislation (SB 7066) would expand the number of plant nurseries that could grow the Charlotte’s Web from five to 20. Licenses potentially could be made available through the state Department of Health within two months of the bill becoming law.

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