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Health News Florida
Healthy State tells the stories you need to know to stay well, with a special focus on Florida.We'll bring you the latest fitness trends, new research on preventing and treating disease, and information about how health policy impacts your pocketbook.We report on health using all the tools at our disposal -- video, audio, photos and text -- to bring these stories to life.Healthy State is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at wusfnews.org.

Florida's Alternative to Medicaid Expansion Unveiled

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Tampa Tribune

Florida lawmakers have come up with an alternative to Medicaid expansion  to cover 1 million low-income adults. The plan is called "Healthy Florida" and will be discussed Thursday in the state Senate. 

SPB 7038 is likely to get a respectful hearing there, since the plan's architect, state Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City) chairs that committee. The bill is posted for reading online, with the pertinent section beginning at line 1077. 

The legislature has rejected expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers wants their own plan to put health coverage in the reach of uninsured households with an income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In Florida, that applies to around 1 million of the state's lowest-income adults who have no health insurance.

To become law, it requires the approval of the House and Senate and the approval of Gov. Rick Scott. But to be implemented, Florida's plan would need federal funds, and that requires approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Two weeks ago, the House Committee on the Affordable Care Act voted along party lines to turn down the federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Last week, its Senate counterpart followed suit, but that was after  Negron said he would come up with "a better system than the one Washington created."

As Health News Florida reported, federal health authorities signaled they were willing to listen to what Florida wants. It sent a note that said the federal government "stands ready to work with states to explore options that improve care and lower costs in the Medicaid program."

As laid out in the bill, "Healthy Florida" would be operated by the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., a non-profit that now provides coverage on a sliding scale to about 300,000 children across the state. It has experience in finding potential enrollees, getting them signed up, accepting payment for premiums and operating a call center for questions and complaints. 

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Credit Texas Tribune

Healthy Kids' CEO Rich Robleto says his organization should be able to cover the additional enrollees if the plan becomes a reality.

But it has an ambitious timeline. Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, which handles Medicaid funds, would submit the plan to the federal government by June 14. That would require them to make a quick turnaround in order for Florida to begin enrollment on Oct. 1, with coverage to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. 

If the feds have objections to some parts of the plan, Healthy Kids Corp. would be able to make changes to gain federal approval "upon giving notice to the Senate and the House of Representatives." It is not clear what would happen if the changes were substantial or controversial, but presumably the governor could call a special session of the legislature to hash it out in time to get the funds flowing by Jan. 1.

Republican legislative leaders had rejected the notion of expanding Medicaid as it stands, saying the program is defective and "broken." But some, particularly on the Senate side, said they wanted to find a way to get access to primary and preventive health care for Floridians who don't get coverage on the job because it isn't provided or they can't afford it.

And time is of the essence, since the federal government is offering to pay the full cost of covering this group for the first three years, tapering after that to 90 percent. State economists have estimated the state could receive about $51 billion in federal funds over 10 years, while having to put up only about $3.5 billion in state funds to cover those 1 million people.

Negron's plan, as described in the bill, would:

  • Allow enrollees a 90-day tryout in a plan before a lock-in period begins.
  • Require that 85 percent of the premiums be spent on health-care services for enrollees,  holding administrative costs and profits to no more than 15 percent.
  • Provide a health reimbursement or health savings account for each enrollee, in which rewards can be placed for healthy behaviors and adhering to wellness or disease management programs.  Enrollees could use the funds from the account for co-pays or drug-store purchases.
  • End if the federal match contribution falls below 90 percent.

For more health news, go to HealthNewsFlorida.org

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