News from Tallahassee for 12/20/14

Florida is No. 32 in health rankings posted on 12/11/14

by AP

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- A new report places Florida as the 32nd healthiest state in the nation.

The report released Wednesday by UnitedHealth Foundation says that in the past year the percentage of Floridians who smoke decreased slightly, from 17.7 percent to 16.8 percent.

The percentage of adults who binge drink also dropped, from 16.5 percent to 15.5 percent.

However, more than a quarter of Floridians are physically inactive, slightly higher than the national rate. The report also says about 1 in 12 babies in Florida are born underweight.

Hawaii was ranked the healthiest state, and Mississippi was ranked the least healthy one.

Health law impacts primary care doc shortage posted on 12/8/14

by kelli kennedy | ap

MIAMI (AP) -- When Olivia Papa signed up for a new health plan last year, her insurance company assigned her to a primary care doctor. The relatively healthy 61-year-old didn't try to see the doctor until last month, when she and her husband both needed authorization to see separate specialists.

She called the doctor's office several times without luck.

"They told me that they were not on the plan, they were never on the plan and they'd been trying to get their name off the plan all year," said Papa, who recently bought a plan from a different insurance company.

It was no better with the next doctor she was assigned. The Naples, Florida, resident said she left a message to make an appointment, "and they never called back."

The Papas were among the 6.7 million people who gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act last year, flooding a primary care system that is struggling to keep up with demand.

A survey this year by The Physicians Foundation found that 81 percent of doctors describe themselves as either over-extended or at full capacity, and 44 percent said they planned to cut back on the number of patients they see, retire, work part-time or close their practice to new patients.

At the same time, insurance companies have routinely limited the number of doctors and providers on their plans as a way to cut costs. The result has further restricted some patients' ability to get appointments quickly.

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FL Leaders Discuss Big Issues Facing State posted on 12/8/14

by AP

Expanding health care coverage, solving water problems, improving education and handling issues like legalizing medical marijuana and gambling were among the topics Florida leaders discussed during a summit Friday.

The idea was to bring together a bipartisan mix of political, business and education leaders to look at the major issues facing Florida in the immediate and distant future and to brainstorm on how the state should tackle them.

The event was organized by Justin Sayfie, a lawyer, lobbyist, and GOP fundraiser who runs a website that aggregates news about Florida politics and government.

Despite his Republican allegiance, Sayfie kicked off the summit by telling people to take off their political hats and put on their Florida hats. In that spirit, one session discussed how Florida can provide more health care coverage people for people who can't afford it despite the Republican legislative leadership's opposition to Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, who is now president of Associated Industries of Florida, said after the discussion that Obama's Affordable Care Act is "politically poisonous" in Florida, but providing health care is a priority the state needs to address.

He said the approach needs to be "somewhere in between the Obama administration's take it or leave it, all or nothing, you have to buy into Obamacare — which is not going to happen anytime soon — and a legislative approach that hopefully doesn't say 'No. Never.'"

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Florida's alternative to Obamacare readying insurance sales posted on 12/8/14

by frank gluck | News-Press

Florida Health Choices, the state's still-struggling insurance exchange created as an alternative to federal health reform, has gotten a great deal of grief over the years for its repeated failures to launch.

But now the 6-year-old site's CEO, Rose Naff, promises the state-funded program will finally offer comprehensive health insurance — it now offers only health discount cards and limited plans — in time for this season's open-enrollment period.

In a letter to federal officials this week, first reported by stpetersblog.com, Naff said several insurance companies will offer Affordable Care Act-compliant policies in the coming weeks.

"Currently offering limited benefit plans and discount plans to Floridians, we will launch comprehensive PPACA-compliant health products for individuals in a few short weeks," Naff wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Dec. 1.

Naff on Friday would not identify the companies negotiating to do so. But she insisted Florida Health Choices is "very close" to formal agreements with several companies that would provide about a dozen plans.

Florida Health Choices will run a test of its expanded website in two weeks and should have the plans available soon after, Naff said.

Its board of directors on Friday approved a $852,000 budget for 2015, including a modest $130,000 for statewide marketing of the expanded site and the new health insurance offerings.

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Healthy Florida Works could expand health care to 1M Floridians posted on 12/4/14

by DANIEL CHANG AND KATHLEEN MCGRORY | Miami Herald

caduceusBusiness groups and individuals have proposed a "free market" solution to expand government-funded health care coverage to nearly 1 million Floridians.

A coalition of business interests and private citizens, including some prominent Republicans, unveiled a plan Wednesday to accept federal dollars to extend publicly funded health care coverage to nearly a million Floridians -- without calling it "Medicaid expansion," as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act.

The plan, called A Healthy Florida Works, offers an alternative to the ACA model while proposing a politically viable path for Florida's Republican-controlled House of Representatives, an obstinate opponent of the health law, to extend coverage to more residents.

Proponents have presented the plan as a "free market" solution that promotes "personal accountability" among beneficiaries by requiring them to pay monthly premiums and to search for employment or enroll in job training programs.

"Trying Medicaid expansion as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act hasn't worked in Tallahassee," said Linda Quick, a coalition member and president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association. "So this proposal is a Florida solution."

It was unclear Wednesday how the proposal would be received by Republicans in the state Legislature.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, who in 2013 proposed an alternative to Medicaid expansion that did not use federal dollars, said he would be willing to consider the coalition's plan.

"It sounds like they are headed in the right direction," said Corcoran, a Land O' Lakes Republican recently tapped to lead the House Budget Committee.

The proposal also had the support of powerful Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs -- a close ally of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. The upper chamber has been supportive of expanding Medicaid.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott also has said he supports expanding health care coverage to poor Floridians.

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