Included in the Florida State Budget scheduled to be voted on later tonight includes a plan to transform the State's $14 Billion Dollar Medicaid Program....

As reported by several Florida newspapers today, a few sentences slipped into a budget-related bill with little discussion a study that would lead to turning over Medicaid long term care to HMO's in some counties including Hillsborough & Polk..

The 2nd Part of the bill would shift perhaps as many as half a million mentally ill Medicaid recipients to HMOs.... .

The move was made in the House, where Speaker Johnnie Byrd, campaigning for the U.S. Senate, has close ties to the HMO industry. Opponents in the Senate said the change would reduce care the mentally ill get at community mental health centers.

The change would pay health maintenance organizations, which have about 60 percent of Medicaid recipients, to control mental health care as well as medical care. Local health centers that now provide the care said the move would shift $90 million to $140 million out of their pockets and to HMOs.

Bob Constantine is the CEO of the Florida Council for Behavioral Health Care...He says the transfer of mentally ill patients on Medicaid to HMO's would amount to a dramatic drop in services ...WMNF asked Constantine why that would be the case?(roll tape#1 o.q." that this will produce")

Double-digit increases in the state Medicaid budget of about $14 billion has been a major concern of Governor Jeb Bush and the Republican-dominated Legislature for years. Medicaid spends about $320 million a year on mental health.

The Study the state would conduct would cost $250,000....

As Bob Constantine of the Florida Council for Behavioral Health Care said,

Medicaid has been testing the HMO concept in the Tampa area for several years, but legislators said they decided last year they were not ready to make the change statewide.

But many legislators say the reason the legislation is coming to fruit is because House Speaker Johnny Byrd...Byrd has long favored giving mental health to HMOs, but senators said they were shocked that the plan made it into budget-related bills because their leaders had promised it would not happen...Fort Lauderdale Democrat Skip Campbell told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "This looks like a backroom deal"This is the worst I've ever seen it."

Ormond Beach State Senator Evelyn Lynn told the SunSentinel - referring to Byrd's U.S. Senate bid, that ""We have other issues going on with campaigns, if you know what I mean,".

The Miami Herald reported today that the vendor that stands to gain the most if Medicaid is transferred to HMO's would be Tampa based WellCare, , which flew Speaker Byrd home on a charter jet last week from a New York City fundraiser for the Plant City Republican's U.S. Senate campaign.

Bob Constantine of the Florida Council for Behavioral Health Care said he's been disappointed , to say the least, about how the Legislature has dealt with this issue (roll tape#2 o.q." major policy )

Bob Constantine of the Florida Council for Behavioral Health Care

Legislators said there may be a Senate attempt to strip out the HMO language today, the final day of this year's session.

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