Is 2013 the Year of the 13th State University and Approval for New Biomedicines?

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: November 24, 2012 3:55 AM
Matt Hudson

Rep. Matt Hudson | Credit: myfloridahouse.gov

Just minutes after a series of legislative swearings-in, a state representative who might be on his way to a leadership reappointment tells Sunshine State News the Florida Legislature’s 2013 session will probably focus on a two-fold reform: education, and health care.

Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, confirmed Tuesday what the News reported over two months ago: the Legislature’s educational focus in 2013 will be the creation of a 13th state university, which will also be the state’s first completely online institution of higher learning.

“I would certainly hope we approve the new university,” Hudson says. “I think that is a great opportunity for Florida.”

Hudson suggested the general legislative climate was very favorable to the project, which has the backing of newly sworn-in House Speaker Will Weatherford.

“I can’t speak for the 44 new freshmen members, but the people I’ve served with recognize the need to continually improve our educational system,” he says. “And if online education is a way that will reach more people and provide them a greater opportunity to create a better, well-trained work force for Florida, I think my colleagues will support it in a heartbeat.”

Another issue dear – perhaps even dearer -- to Hudson’s heart is health care reform. In 2012, he was chair of the House’s Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, a position he requested and hopes to be reassigned to in the next session.

“I’ve got a bill I’m working on, that would add a new category of prescription drugs not currently defined in our statutes,” he says, “but which we want to be defined, so that when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves them, our physicians and pharmacies can legally dispense them.”

The drugs in question are biosimilars, which are semi-generic -- and so cheaper -- versions of biological drugs made from human or animal materials.

“Biosimilar drugs are not in the U.S. market yet,” Hudson explains. “They do exist in other countries, and we anticipate the FDA will probably approve those drugs within the next 24 months; we want to make sure Floridians are capable of receiving these life-saving medications.”

He says Florida in particular stands to benefit from a legal environment favorable to biosimilars, given the state’s flourishing biotechnology industry.

“With Florida being one of the pre-eminent places in the U.S. for biomedical research, it is important for us to make sure we are creating a culture where our research has the ability to be translated into lifesaving drugs right here in Florida,” he says. “This would be the first bill of its kind in the United States. It’s just extremely important for Florida’s citizens.”

Another issue facing the Legislature will be how to respond to the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, relating to Medicaid expansion and the setting up of health insurance exchanges.

“Two years ago, [the Florida Legislature] passed the largest single reform of our Medicaid program since its inception in the '60s,” Hudson says. “If the federal government would approve our Medicaid reform, and had they done it a year and a half ago, it would have saved Floridians billions of dollars and would have provided better health outcomes for millions of people.”

In 2011, the Legislature passed a bill shifting the state’s Medicaid program from the government to private health maintenance organizations. The measure has yet to be approved by the Obama administration.

“We’re at a crossroads, where we are asking [the federal government]: You want us to expand our Medicaid program, but why won’t you even allow us to fix what we have already -- and we know that it works, so much so that other states across the union are replicating our reform – and implement that fix in our 67 counties?”

Obamacare gives states the option to expand Medicaid eligibility from classes of vulnerable persons (those covered under Medicaid today: pregnant women, children, needy families, the blind, the elderly, and the disabled) to all non-elderly persons with income below 133 percent of the poverty level.

“I don’t believe we will expand,” Hudson predicts. “And certainly not under the present conditions.”

Obamacare also gives states the option of directly managing their own health insurance exchanges, or allowing the federal government to do it for them. (The exchanges are government-regulated marketplaces for the selection and purchase of approved private insurance plans.) Republican leaders around the country are wary about cooperating with what they believe is unconstitutional and unsustainable legislation. In addition, they fear their state budgets cannot afford to manage the exchanges, and won’t have effective discretion over how they manage them.

“If I were to ask an attorney to sign a 10-page contract, and four of those pages were blank, he would not only tell me ‘No,’ but ‘Heck no!’” Hudson exclaims. “The state of Florida has been given a 100-page contract from the feds, and 25 of them are blank. We don’t know the rules under which an exchange would work, operate, or function for the citizens of Florida, so it is by no means appropriate for us to delve into that yet. I think Speaker Weatherford’s decision to wait and see is an appropriate one."

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116.

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