Florida Senate budget committee advances bill cutting health coverage for working poor

04/01/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The budget battled continued in the state Senate today. Republicans in the Senate Budget Committee voted to slash funds for the Medically Needy program shortly after they approved giving bonuses for judges who are quickest at moving cases through the court system.

Proposed Senate Bill 7174 would rename Medicaid’s “medically needy” program. The system, which serves those whose health care expenses place them below the poverty line, would be known as the “Medicaid nonpoverty medical subsidy.” Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich said Republican bill sponsor Joe Negron’s proposed title would be extremely inaccurate.

"I still believe that this is a misnomer, that this is not correct to say 'non-poverty'. People spend down and they are in poverty. Most of the people, because of the catastrophic costs of their illnesses, diseases, they not only are medically needy but they are in poverty."

Negron’s proposal doesn’t end with the program’s moniker. It eliminates most of the services currently offered. More than 177,000 Medically Needy beneficiaries now receive financial assistance with doctor’s visits, hospitalization, and prescription drugs. Negron said his proposal would do away with two of these.

"We elected in our committee to fund physician visits continue to pay for those. We are not, under the current budget, continuing to pay for prescriptions or for hospital visits."

Democratic Senator Rich said the bill would have extremely morbid consequences.

"I just think it's not good enough for us, as a legislature, as a state, to leave here and pass legislation that would really sentence people to death because that's what we're doing."

Negron said the cuts wouldn’t affect children or pregnant women, that it wouldn’t hurt seniors over 65 since they qualify for Medicare, and those with catastrophic illness qualify for federal aid. He said nobody would die as a direct result of the cuts, given the number of other aid programs available in both the public and private sector.

"There are other programs available in the private sector and in the public sector to help individuals with prescription costs, but it's $100 million in general revenue just for the three months that we've made a reduction, so it's balancing that against funding nursing homes, funding children's hospitals."

Republican Senator John Thrasher said he took offense to Rich’s death sentence comment, adding that tough times call for tough decisions.

"I don't believe I'm sentencing anybody to death by voting for this bill. I think what we're trying to do and what Senator Negron's good work has done is try to make the best, we're in a very desperate situation in the state of Florida."

Thrasher then asked Rich that if she had a better idea on how to help the state close its $3 billion budget gap? Rich said yes, as a matter of fact, now that you mention it.

"I do have a bill filed, Senate Bill 1764, which has to do with corporate income tax, it's the water's edge issue that we have had before and discussed before so if anybody would like to have a dialogue and discuss it I would be happy to have the bill heard and we can all have the discussion."

She said there are several tax loopholes benefiting the corporations and the well-off that could go. Wealthy budget committee chair JD Alexander said the committee may take up her proposal if it gets a chance, though it’s doubtful such a measure would make it out of committee with such a GOP majority. Alexander, who represents parts of Central Florida including Lake Wales, said his constituency would benefit more from lower taxes than a full-funded medically-needy program.

"I live in a rural district and we probably have at least 12 percent unemployment. We don't have the luxury of large health care institutions in our backyard that have motored through this rough area because we continue to prioritize spending towards it."

Two Republican senators voted against the bill. One was New Port Richey Senator Mike Fasano. The other was Melbourne Senator Thad Altman, who said if lawmakers are trying to prove the economy, they need to think about such programs in terms of jobs and revenue generated.

"And I would hope, as we move forward, that we look at dynamic scoring in terms of not only what a bill would cost in terms of revenue or non-revenue. Some of the revenue sources that we could produce that would enable us to match some of these federal draw down dollars may actually have a net positive benefit to the state of Florida and to the taxpayers and produce wealth not only an improvement in the quality of life."

Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner, from Tampa, said the panel needs an even bigger-picture approach, and ought to consider health a basic right for all constituents – not just those who are fortunate enough to have insurance.

"If I can't get out that bed and get to this place, if I'm too sick to move, I can't eat, I can't go to work, I can't provide for my family, I can do nothing. And so, to me, the blessing that we all have here assembled is that we all, on our very own, were able to get up this morning and get to this place. And we seem to take it for granted."

Gary Siplin was the only Democratic Senator to vote in favor of the bill, which Negron stressed would not impact program costs until April 2012. Less than an hour before the budget committee passed the cuts, they approved an $11 million incentive program that would reward the judges that rule on the most cases. The fastest judges would get around $3,000 on top of annual salaries exceeding $130,000. Majority Whip David Simmons said it would help unclog the court system.

"People want justice, they want a decision and it is so true that justice delayed is justice denied."

The committee also passed nearly $200 million in cuts to the state’s affordable housing program.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the 2011 legislative session

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I'm confused....

I fail to see the problem with this… EVERYONE will be receiving federally funded ObamaCare!!! Why should the State subsidize healthcare anymore??? It sounds to me as if our State Senate is simply doing their job… cutting unnecessary spending!!! Everyone will be getting ObamaCare… right??? As for giving bonuses to Judges that “expediently” move cases through to the next step… “Praise Jesus and throw the switch”… it’s about time court cases got through the system!!! And any Judge that doesn’t move his or her docket through should be FIRED!!! Somewhere in the Constitution of the United States doesn’t it say that everyone… “shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State…”??? And… I also believe that if there is a delay of a year or more from the date that the “speedy trial right” is attached… it is termed to be "presumptively prejudicial"!!! However… the Courts have never EXPLICITLY ruled that any absolute time limit actually applies… yet… the statement "presumptively prejudicial" still stands!!! Soooo… what’s the real story here, Sis??? That the… Florida Senate Budget Committee is supporting and preparing for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act... by cutting $millions$ of unnecessary State spending!!! AND… that the Budget Committee is also responsible for insuring that the rights of the accused to a constitutionally guaranteed “speedy trial” are PROTECTED!!! Orrrr… is the real story as it appears to be… ObamaCare will still need massive state subsidizing and people should spend a lot more time in jail before they get a trial by their peers??? As for cuts to the state’s affordable housing program… everybody who has a house has seen the value of that “NEST EGG” go to hell in a hand basket!!! What… is some folks housing more “special” than mine??? Get over it…

Get over it

The goverenment health care (not Obamacare) does not take effect until 2014. What should these ill citizens do in the meantime?. A lot of these people are extremely ill. They are on oxygen,heart monitors,kidney dialysis,etc. Should we just let them die?. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you wish but I think one day we all have to answer to a higher being and the value of our homes won't matter whatsoever but our contribution to our fellow man will.

Have been... for a long time!!!

I don’t know Julie… looks like it might be a while before this is fully implemented… “Provides for funding the Medicaid reimbursement for certain persons age 65 or older while the optional program is being PHASED OUT. Renames the "medically needy" program as the Medicaid nonpoverty medical subsidy. LIMITS CERTAIN CATEGORIES of persons eligible for the subsidy yada yada...” As for answering to a higher being… did you ever stop to think that HE may be calling a bunch of those folks home… and your government is spending a bunch of your money trying to keep them here??? Besides… if I want to contribute to my fellow man… that’s between me, my fellow man and HIM and the government ain’t got anything to do with it!!! But beyond that… what did you think about the GOP protecting the your rights to a speedy trial???