Joe Negron: Fed-Approved Medicaid Waiver ‘Encouraging Sign Washington Treating Florida Like Equal’
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The Obama administration has finally approved Florida's petition to enroll several elderly Medicaid patients in private health care plans, a move the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Patient Protect and Affordable Care Act is calling an "encouraging sign" from Washington as legislators continue to debate how they will implement Obamacare.
“I think it’s good news for Florida,” Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, told reporters Monday afternoon, after a joint meeting of the House and Senate select committees (on "Obamacare”). “I think it’s an encouraging sign that Washington is treating Florida like an equal partner, rather than dictating unilateral terms of surrender.”
In 2011, the state of Florida sent two petitions to the Obama administration: One proposed to transfer Medicaid-eligible senior citizens receiving long-term care to taxpayer-subsidized private “managed care” programs in their homes or communities, rather than nursing homes. The other would transfer all of the remaining Medicaid-eligible patients to managed care plans.
Only the first petition was granted Monday, ahead of a Feb. 7 deadline. The second petition carries no deadline, but Gov. Rick Scott has wasted no time asking U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to approve it right away.
"Your leadership in ... approv[ing] our long-term care waiver provides us with flexibilities we can now begin to implement to better serve the Florida families who rely on this program,” Scott wrote Monday in a letter to Sebelius. “Now, our most urgent need is the immediate approval of our second pending waiver, which ... will give us additional flexibility within the current Medicaid program, and it supports our goal of improving the cost, quality, and access to health care for all Florida families.”
The Florida Legislature approved the statewide managed care transfers in 2011, after launching a pilot program in 2006 testing the concept out in just five counties: Baker, Broward, Clay, Duval and Nassau. A 2011 study by the Naples-based Foundation for Government Accountability, a free-market think tank, found that the program had led to “greater choice, better health outcomes, and higher satisfaction” among patients.
Negron said he believes the approval of the first petition “bodes well” for the approval of the second, which he hopes will come by early March.
“I think the feds were likely to approve it from the beginning; they were just drawing it out as long as possible, perhaps to try and see if they could use it as a negotiating tool,” Abigail MacIver, director of policy and external affairs for the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity, who was present at Monday afternoon’s committee meeting, told Sunshine State News. “I think the feds have to be realistic about letting the states reform Medicaid in the way they think best for their own states' citizens.”
While declining to say what direction he thought the Senate was leaning in with regard to Florida expanding Medicaid eligibility or setting up its own health care exchange markets (or leaving it to the federal government), Negron said discussions are coming along as they should be.
“We’re past the midpoint of the trial, and we’re getting close to decision-making time,” he told reporters when asked where he himself was leaning. “I don’t want to make that decision until we’re back in the jury room deliberating. We’re not there yet.
“Of course we’ll do our deliberations in public; that is just a metaphor,” Negron, an attorney and a staunch civil libertarian, quickly added.
Monday's joint select committee meeting focused solely on the topic of the health care exchanges, hearing testimony from various experts on the possible ramifications of the state running its own program, leaving it to the federal government, or establishing a state-federal hybrid. No proposed legislation was considered.
Since Florida missed a December deadline, the federal government will be operating the state’s health care exchange until at least 2015.
“I don’t think we learned anything new at today’s meeting,” MacIver told the News. “I think the salient facts are out there: the federal government has wrapped up these health insurance exchanges in so much federal bureaucracy that there’s absolutely no flexibility for the states, and we [at Americans for Prosperity] have been saying that from the beginning.
“Let the feds deal with this mess: they created it, they need to deal with it."
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.