News from Tallahassee for 1/26/15

House Rules Committee Chair: Smooth Sailing For Low-THC Marijuana posted on 1/23/15

by Nick Evans | WFSU

The House committee overseeing Florida’s rules and regulations will likely have to give their blessing before a low-THC marijuana framework can be put in place. But some lawmakers don’t think it will be a stumbling block.

Often the legislature delegates a law’s implementation to a state agency. But if official estimates suggest it will cost private businesses more than a million dollars over the next five years to comply, the rules have to go back to the legislature for ratification. Health officials say rules for low-THC marijuana will likely follow that path, but Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville) isn’t so sure.

“By the way, we’re not certain that Charlotte’s Web will have to come back to us.” Ray says. Charlotte’s Web is a popular brand of low-THC marijuana oil that has become synonymous with the issue.

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Medical pot advocates answer foes’ points in new petition posted on 1/22/15

by jerome r. stockfish | tampa tribune

medical marijuana dispensary TAMPA — When the campaign for a constitutional amendment to broadly legalize medical marijuana in Florida failed in November, advocates promised they’d be back.

They haven’t wasted much time.

United for Care, the chief proponent for medicinal pot, said earlier this month that a second petition has been approved by the Secretary of State’s office and the group is collecting signatures to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot. United for Care is starting from scratch – it will need to collect 683,000 signatures – and says it has addressed some key issues that caused the 2014 measure to go down.

“We’re back,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of United for Care and head of the 2014 campaign. “One of the big lessons that we learned is that it is a tremendous undertaking to get something on the Florida ballot, and if we are going to do that, we need to start as soon as we can.”

United for Care is already expanding on its 2014 base. Taylor Samson, a Valrico mother, said she wasn’t actively involved in the campaign last year, but is on board this time around.

“This is a cause that I believe in,” said Samson, who is an epilepsy patient and has been on a variety of medicines all her life. “I am a strong supporter of science and scientific research. I think that we need to give Florida the opportunity to seek alternative medicines and I want to give the medical and scientific communities the opportunity to further explore the potential benefits of medical marijuana.”

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New Privacy Concerns Over HealthCare.gov posted on 1/20/15

by AP

A little-known side to the government's health insurance website is prompting renewed concerns about privacy, just as the White House is calling for stronger cybersecurity protections for consumers.

The data firms have embedded connections on the government site. Ever-evolving technology allows for individual Internet users to be tracked, building profiles that are a vital tool for advertisers.It works like this: When you apply for coverage on HealthCare.gov, dozens of data companies may be able to tell that you are on the site. Some can even glean details such as your age, income, ZIP code, whether you smoke or if you are pregnant.

Connections to multiple third-party tech firms were documented by technology experts who analyzed HealthCare.gov, and confirmed by The Associated Press. There is no evidence that personal information from HealthCare.gov has been misused, but the number of outside connections is raising questions.

"As I look at vendors on a website...they could be another potential point of failure," said corporate cybersecurity consultant Theresa Payton. "Vendor management can often be the weakest link in your privacy and security chain."

A former White House chief information officer under President George W. Bush, she said the large number of outside connections on HealthCare.gov seems like "overkill" and makes it "kind of an outlier" among government websites.

The privacy concerns come against the backdrop of President Barack Obama's new initiative to protect personal data online, a highlight of his State of the Union message scheduled for Tuesday night. The administration is getting the health care website ready for the final enrollment drive of 2015, aiming to have more than 9 million people signed up by Feb. 15 for subsidized private coverage.

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Florida Chamber Says It Will Support Medicaid Expansion...With Caveats posted on 1/15/15

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

The pro-business Florida Chamber of commerce has unveiled its health priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

The list includes big battles of years past—like letting some nurses and physician assistants expand their scope-of-practice, revamping the rules regarding medical lawsuits and possibly expanding the state’s Medicaid program for low-income Floridians. But that last part comes with a caveat--like capping how much Medicaid can take up in overall state spending.

“We should not allow Medicaid to consume more and more of our state budget," the Chamber's David Christian said. "So we put a cap of 32 percent. That factors in growth and savings. We think we can get there when you look at our entire plan.”

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Floridians' share of health care premiums outpacing income posted on 1/14/15

by Ledyard King and Maureen Groppe | Tallahassee Democrat & USA Today

WASHINGTON -- Millions of Floridians have seen their share of health care premiums climb nearly 10 percent annually since 2010 -- twice the national average -- even as the overall cost of those premiums flattens, a new report concludes.

That's because employers are passing along more premium costs to workers. In fact, Floridians are responsible for the highest share of premiums for family coverage -- 35 percent -- than workers in any state, according to the analysis by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York foundation that studies health care.

The burden of higher premiums is exacerbated by another unwelcome reality: Health insurance costs as a whole have grown faster than income. That's especially true in southern states like Florida where median incomes are lower than in other parts of the country.

"Growth in employer premiums and deductibles slowed in many states after passage of the Affordable Care Act," said Sara Collins, a co-author of the report. "However, slow wage growth means working families in every state are being squeezed by health-care costs."

In 2003, Florida's private-sector workers in employer-sponsored individual health plans spent an average $750 to cover their share of health insurance premiums. That amounted to about 21 percent of the entire cost, with employers picking up the remainder. By 2010, workers were paying $1,073, or a yearly increase of about 5.2 percent.

In 2013, employees in those plans were paying an average $1,408. Their contribution was increasing nearly 10 percent a year even as the overall cost of premiums began leveling off, a trend apparent in 35 states where rate increases slowed down or even disappeared.

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