News from Tallahassee for 3/2/15

5 things to watch Monday at the Florida Legislature posted on 3/2/15

by Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- Monday is the calm before the storm: the day before the start of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch in Florida’s Capitol:

• The date of Florida’s 2016 presidential primary will be debated in the House Rules Committee as the panel considers a bill to set the date for March 15 to comply with national political party rules. The nation’s biggest swing state could play a bigger role in 2016 with the expected candidacies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

• Stores in poor areas with few grocery stores could reap a “food desert” tax credit under a bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee. That’s desert, not dessert. The bill (SB 610), by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, could benefit chains such as CVS and Walgreen’s if they collect at least 20 percent of their gross receipts from sales of fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat products.

• The Department of Health will try again to set up a regulatory framework for nurseries to enter Florida’s pot-for-profit industry under a 2014 law that allows limited medical marijuana use for patients with severe spasms or cancer. The first proposed rule was tossed out by a hearing officer and an attorney for the Legislature says the new rule is too vague.

• The day before the start of the session is the last day lawmakers can solicit and collect campaign contributions from lobbyists and their clients until the session ends. Dozens of them will have receptions, the Republican Party of Florida holds a fund-raiser, and Senate Democrats host a “drink, drop and dash” reception at the Governor’s Club. The “drop” refers to checks of up to $1,000 each.

• Associated Industries of Florida, a lobby group for business, holds its traditional pre-session reception for lawmakers from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at its headquarters north of the Capitol. Platinum-level sponsors include Duke Energy, Florida Blue, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar, and invitations carry a note that because of Florida’s gift ban, legislators have to pay their own way at $25 a ticket.

Governor's budget cuts funding for hundreds of health care workers posted on 3/2/15

by Michael Auslen | Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — Nutritionists who advise poor families, health counselors and family support workers are among hundreds of health care positions that would be cut under Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget.

Nearly 60 percent of the 1,353 positions eliminated in the governor's budget released last month would come from the Florida Department of Health, an agency whose mission is, "To protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida."

Records show that under Scott's plan, the department would lose funding for 758 positions in the 2015-16 fiscal year, roughly 5 percent of its workforce under the current budget. Department spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said most of those positions are currently unfilled.

"The Florida Department of Health streamlined processes and administrative efficiencies, which resulted in the reduction of 758 positions, more than 500 of which are vacant," Cowie said in a statement. The nearly 200 layoffs in the department will be administrative and not directly affect county health departments or any doctors who see patients, the governor's office said.

Cowie insisted "no department services or readiness capabilities will be interrupted."

» Read more

Billions at Stake as State, Feds Negotiate Medicaid posted on 2/27/15

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

When the 2015 legislative session begins next week, many of the state’s decisions on health care for the poor are on hold as state and federal Medicaid officials negotiate over funding, behind closed doors. Billions of dollars are at stake.

When it comes to health-care funding, Florida’s in a funny position. The state has twice turned down billions of dollars from federal Medicaid that would have covered care for about a million poor Floridians.

This year may be no different.

"I don't believe for one moment that this is a good plan for Florida and I would certainly not change my opinion on that,," said State Representative Matt Hudson, who chairs the powerful committee in charge of health spending.

At the same time, state legislators and Governor Rick Scott want federal officials to keep a special fund for hospitals that treat those same patients. It's called the Low Income Pool.

It may seem inconsistent, but that's health-care politics in Florida.

Justin Senior, Florida’s Medicaid director, is watching the calendar as he negotiates with federal health officials over renewing the Low Income Pool. It expires June 30.

“In order for us to make any plans for expenditures on July 1 of this year we really do need agreement in principle from our federal partners sometime in late March or very early April,” he said.

The Medicaid budget that Governor Scott recently sent to the Legislature includes more than $1 billion for the Low Income Pool. But federal Medicaid chief Eliot Fishman told business leaders in Orlando recently that the Low Income Pool – which he calls LIP -- will not be renewed in its present form.

“We extended the LIP for a year with the explicit purpose of moving to a significantly reformed payment system," Fishman said at the Associated Industries of Florida's Health Care Affordability Summit.

» Read more

10 big issues to watch during the 2015 Session posted on 2/24/15

by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

FL Capitol Bldg RotundaTHE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 23, 2015— Florida lawmakers will gather March 3 in the Capitol for the pomp-filled start of the 2015 legislative session. Then the real work begins. For 60 days, the House and Senate will grapple with hot-button issues ranging from standardized testing in public schools to reforming the troubled prison system. And that doesn't even touch on the one must-pass bill of the session: a roughly $77 billion state budget.

Here are 10 big issues to watch during the upcoming session:

BUDGET: Banking on a nearly $1 billion surplus, Gov. Rick Scott offered a budget proposal in January that included record per-student spending in public schools and $673 million in tax cuts. But a major question looms for the Republican-dominated Legislature as it prepares to negotiate a final spending plan this spring. A program that has funneled about $1 billion a year to hospitals and other health providers is set to expire June 30, and it is unclear whether state and federal officials can agree on an extension. If they can't agree, that would leave a huge hole in the budget. The program, known as the Low Income Pool, helps subsidize care for low-income and uninsured Floridians...

HEALTH CARE: The noisiest health-care issue during the upcoming session likely will focus on whether the state should accept tens of billions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid or to provide coverage through a similar private health-insurance program. But like the past two years, the idea appears dead on arrival in the Florida House. Health-care lobbyists, however, are working on a variety of other issues, including proposals to bolster the use of telemedicine in the state. The House and Senate could not reach agreement on a telemedicine bill last year but appear to be close to a compromise heading into this spring's session.

LAND AND WATER: Voters sent a strong message in November when they overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring the state to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars a year for land and water projects. But one of the most closely watched issues of the session will be how the Legislature carries that out. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, have made clear that water issues will be a priority of their two years leading the Legislature. But at least part of the debate will focus on how to divvy up money between proposed water projects, which range from cleaning up natural springs and the Everglades to helping with local-government stormwater systems.

» Read more

PAs, Nurse Practitioners Could Get Prescribing Authority posted on 2/11/15

by rick stone | health news florida

Florida legislators this year may vote to allow non-doctors such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances. The move responds to Florida's doctor shortage and its developing flood of patients with new Obamacare health policies.

It's not just a Florida problem. John McGinnity, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, said a good way to describe the American doctor supply is with the old phrase "few and far between."

“We've known for a long time that we have a shortage of physicians,” McGinnity said.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners lack medical school diplomas and medical licenses. But many have advanced medical training and they’re allowed to diagnose, treat and prescribe within limits and under the supervision of regular physicians. Nurse practitioners must have earned Master's degrees or doctoral level diplomas

The state has specific licensing requirements for both physicians assistants and nurse practitioners.

Still, they frequently encounter their legal limitations, according to Corinne Mixon, a lobbyist for the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants.

» Read more

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