Health care is on the agenda of the Florida Legislature in 2024

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By merznatalia via iStock for WMNF News.

Backroom Briefing: Weekly political notes

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to roll out priorities for the 2024 legislative session, he signaled support for joining legislative leaders in addressing healthcare issues.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has been gathering input about how to boost the number of healthcare providers in the state.

“We do not have enough providers, whether it be physicians, nurses, technicians … facilities to handle our current population comfortably and easily,” Passidomo said during an appearance this summer on the City & State Florida podcast “Deeper Dive With Dara Kam.”

Also, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, created the House Select Committee on Health Innovation this month. The committee will “review issues relating to access and affordability in health care,” Renner said in a memo to House members.

Appearing Monday in Jacksonville, DeSantis said efforts are underway to make health care more affordable.

“I’ve talked and spoken to her (Passidomo), we’re going to work together on some health care stuff,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also highlighted a bill he signed in May that places restrictions on pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs, which play a role in negotiating drug prices while acting as something of middlemen in the healthcare system.

The law, which went into effect July 1, increases state authority over PBMs; places restrictions on PBMs that have affiliated pharmacy businesses; and prevents PBMs from requiring patients to receive prescriptions by mail.

DeSantis and the state Cabinet on Monday approved rules that set up application forms for PBMs seeking to operate in Florida and fines for operating without state approval.

Passidomo has met with representatives of various groups, including the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Hospital Association and the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. She held a similar idea-gathering process before the 2023 session to help craft a wide-ranging housing bill dubbed the “Live Local Act.”

Republican leaders already have made clear that expanding Medicaid eligibility — a move long sought by Democrats — won’t be an option.

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, on Monday called the state’s approach to Medicaid eligibility an “unacceptable absence of leadership.”

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians, including children, have lost Medicaid coverage in recent months after the end of a federal public health emergency stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the public health emergency, the state couldn’t drop people from Medicaid, including if they no longer met income-eligibility requirements.

“Nearly 50 percent have been disenrolled for procedural reasons, meaning that their coverage was terminated without them actually being determined ineligible,” Driskell said during a conference call with reporters.

“I guess children from low-income families in Florida don’t poll well in the GOP primary with voters in Iowa or New Hampshire,” Driskell added.

WHO’S ON FIRST

As he was formally designated Monday as the next House speaker, Miami Republican Daniel Perez declared the Legislature the “first branch of government.” But he quickly tossed out an asterisk.

“It’s not a message to the governor,” Perez said a short time later to reporters.

“Part of the reason that the state of Florida is the state of Florida is the governor,” Perez continued. “Granted, the Legislature, in my opinion, is the most important part for the success of the state of Florida. But that being said, the Legislature can’t work alone,”

During a speech after House Republicans voted to make hm speaker for the 2025 and 2026 legislative sessions, Perez said America’s founding fathers “believed that the legislative power should be the first branch of government.”

“They believed that the great issues of the day should be debated in a deliberative body directly connected to the people,” he said. “The United States Congress has obviously failed to live up to that ideal, but I don’t think we need to follow their example.”

WAIT AND SEE

Perez said his constituents are students of politics and government.

“They know the issues. They know what the result is that they want; whether it’s right or not,” Perez told reporters.

One message he’s gotten loud and clear from constituents is to address the state’s property insurance problems. Perez said that despite efforts to chip away at the problem in recent years, more work is needed.

But the future speaker declined to speculate on social issues that might crop up when he gets the gavel.

“Social issues, they consistently change,” Perez said. “You never know what’s going to be the hot topic that is before us. And usually, there is something that is going on in our state that has caused us to react to social issues.”

Driskell said Democrats anticipate upcoming sessions to continue to focus on “culture-war” issues.

“We have a governor who is still in a GOP primary and who has demonstrated a willingness to use his official resources to try to bolster his chances on the political side,” Driskell said.

And that willingness to push culture-war bills, Driskell said, is frustrating to Floridians.

“They want to talk to me about the escalating costs of utility bills and health-care costs and health-care premiums,” Driskell said. “They don’t want to talk to me about how to ban more books at their neighborhood school.”

SHORT WEEK

The first committee week leading up to the 2024 session began and ended Tuesday.

Just three House subcommittees met, with the first at 9 a.m. and the last beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Ralph Yoder, executive director of the Florida Transportation Commission, joked about the schedule as he opened a discussion before the Transportation & Modals Subcommittee — the 1:30 p.m. meeting.

“Thank you for being the excellent students that you are, and staying all the way to the end,” Yoder said.

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“I dress like he campaigns,” — U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, (@JohnFetterman), on X, formerly known as Twitter, responding to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who called a change in the U.S. Senate dress code for the Pennsylvania Democrat a “dumbing down” of the country.

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