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News from Tallahassee for 5/22/13
House Speaker Weatherford defends health care votes in Bradenton posted on 5/17/13
by JIM DE LA | Bradenton Herald
BRADENTON -- Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford sees great things in the state's future.
"Florida is on an amazing streak. Really exciting things are happening in Florida," the Wesley Chapel Republican said Thursday at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Bradenton Country Club.
He called Florida's economic climate one of the best in the country.
"Politics is a tough game, but economic freedom doesn't pay for itself. It takes sacrifice. It takes work," he said.
"And the reason Florida is roaring back is because we have created a pocket of freedom that is one of the most advantageous to do business in America and maybe even the world."
Weatherford defended the recent session of the Legislature, which was criticized for not voting to participate in the federal Affordable Care Act -- passing up an estimated $51 million.
"No matter what the newspaper said, we had a very successful session," he said. "We want everybody to have some form of insurance."
The problem is paying for it, Weatherford said.
In 1991, Florida had 900,000 people on Medicaid, costing $4 billion a year, he said. Today, 3.3 million Floridians are on Medicaid, which costs $23 billion.
"It is a runaway freight train when it come to our budget," he said. "Imagine expanding it to another 900,000 to a million people."
Weatherford called the Affordable Care Act a bait-and-switch ploy.
"They say, 'We're going to pay for it for the first six to eight years, 100 percent up front. And then, after a while, we'll just figure it out,'" he said.
"We're setting ourselves up by creating a new entitlement for people without any real way of knowing how we're going to pay for it. If we can hold true ... and not build a dependency state, but build an opportunity state, 20 years from now we will be the shining light of this country."
Pinellas House members say they would pay more for health insurance posted on 5/16/13
by Staff | Tampa Bay Times
ST. PETERSBURG — Three Pinellas County legislators who voted against accepting federal Medicaid money defended their heavily subsidized state health plans Tuesday but said they were open to footing more of the bill.
Reps. Larry Ahern, Ed Hooper and Kathleen Peters were among eight Pinellas legislators grilled Tuesday by members of Suncoast Tiger Bay. The three receive health insurance for $8.34 a month but voted against accepting billions of dollars in additional federal health care aid for poor Floridians.
The Tampa Bay Times noted the awkward juxtaposition in a Tuesday story...
House members pay $8.34 a month for individual health insurance, or $30 a month to cover a family. That's one-sixth of what members of the Senate and most state employees pay.
Taxpayers pay nearly $600 a month to cover each individual House member, according to the state. Lois Fries, a 73-year-old Democrat from Largo, seized on that and asked, "How do you justify that hypocrisy without expanding Medicaid?"
House members say yes to cheap health insurance — for themselves posted on 5/14/13
by TIA MITCHELL | HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
Florida House Republicans last month loudly and proudly rejected billions of dollars in federal money that would have provided health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians.
Quietly, they kept their own health insurance premiums staggeringly low. House members will pay just $8.34 a month for state-subsidized health care next year, or $30 a month to cover their entire family.
That's one-sixth of what state senators and most state employees will pay, and one-tenth of the cost to the average private-sector worker, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It's also less than the $25 a month House Republicans wanted to charge poor Floridians for basic coverage such as a limited number of doctor visits or preventive care.
House Republicans, including Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, would not say why the House did not raise its premiums to match the Senate. The premium increase was also part of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget.
In a statement Monday, Weatherford said: "We are aware of the differences in what House members pay compared to other state employees for health insurance and are looking forward to addressing it next session."
The discrepancy, even if it's addressed, doesn't diminish the awkwardness of House lawmakers accepting cheap, subsidized health insurance for themselves while effectively saying no to health care for others.
"I don't think there is a defense of that. I think its pretty unconscionable," said Karen Woodall, executive director of the left-leaning Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy. "And then to turn around and the leadership to say the reason 1 million people aren't accessing taxpayer-funded health care is they don't want to use taxpayer dollars is very disingenuous."
Florida prepares for massive insurance signup posted on 5/13/13
by William E. Gibson | Sun Sentinel
WASHINGTON – Facing the next big health-care challenge in Florida, Uncle Sam plans to enlist hundreds of consumer "navigators" over the next several months to help enroll up to 3.5 million uninsured state residents by January, when everyone is required to have health insurance.
Prospective navigators are preparing to plunge into neighborhoods, schools, clinics, unemployment offices, farm-labor hubs, college campuses, churches and companies about to lay off workers – wherever the uninsured can be found – to persuade them to enroll in a health-care plan, help them to fill out the forms and determine if they're eligible for tax credits to help pay for it.
Still, some of those who already reach out to the uninsured expect the state to be left with big gaps in coverage next year, partly because a deadlocked Florida Legislature -- reluctant to carry out the new law known as "Obamacare" -- ended its session on May 3 without expanding Medicaid.
That means Florida, where one in five residents lacks insurance, will continue to face many of the same problems that now plague its health-care system, including hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated "charity" care that shifts costs to employers and anyone who pays for insurance.
Despite Snub, Tampa Bay to Get Jobs, Cash From 'Obamacare' posted on 5/10/13
by Carol Gentry | WUSF
Even though Florida officials tried to block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at every turn over the past three years, the state will gain millions in grants and hundreds of new jobs this year from its implementation.
On Thursday, the Obama administration announced it will offer $8 million in grants to 48 community health centers in the state to help them enroll uninsured Floridians in insurance plans under the Act, also known as "Obamacare," beginning Oct 1. Other non-profits can apply for similar grants through a program for ACA navigators.
And according to Kaiser Health News, Florida is one of six states that will share 9,000 new call-center jobs to aid in the enrollment. It is not clear how many of the jobs will come to Florida.
The jobs will be added to a Tampa call center operated under a federal contract by Vangent, a General Dynamics Information Technology subsidiary.
Operators at the call centers, which already handle questions about Medicare, are to be trained to help enroll uninsured individuals and families in a choice of plans to be made available Oct. 1 on an online "marketplace." Details about the plan choices are not yet available.
The call centers, which will operate around the clock when the enrollment period begins, are designed to handle the 34 states -- including Florida -- that are relying on the federal government to provide an "exchange" or "marketplace." Sixteen states decided to develop their own online enrollment.
The operators will also help enrollees obtain up-front tax credits -- essentially the same as price discounts -- for those who qualify under the health law. A majority of Florida's uninsured residents are projected to be in the income range that will qualify for subsidies.
$8 Million for Health Centers
The grants announced Thursday that are available to 48 community health centers in Florida are part of $150 million nationwide for in-person enrollment assistance for the uninsured, Kaiser Health News reports.
The list of community health centers in Florida that are eligible to apply for the grants is posted on the Health Resources and Services Administration web site. Applications are due the end of this month.
A federally built online shopping site for the uninsured to enroll in a health plan is supposed to be ready by Oct. 1 for states that have decided not to build their own, including Florida. The coverage would begin Jan. 1. The rapid ramp-up has raised questions on whether the marketplace will be ready by Oct. 1, but USA Today reported Friday that unnamed officials are sending signals of reassurance.
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