Weekly Roundup: Health Care -- But Wait, There's More ...
Around the State
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state health officials spent much of the week on their heels while the estimated price of the Affordable Care Act dropped faster than tree ornaments the day after Christmas.
What began Monday as a $26 billion millstone around the neck of Florida taxpayers was reduced eight-fold to a more manageable $3 billion expense after Agency for Health Care Administration officials fine-tuned their 10-year estimates for what expanding Medicaid would cost the state.
Beginning Monday with comments on a chilly street corner in Washington, D.C., Scott -- a vocal critic of Obamacare -- took heat for citing figures that key legislative analysts questioned and the governor's opponents said were downright inflated.
In contrast, groups eyeing election reforms came up with surprisingly similar remedies this week. Separate groups called on lawmakers to be a little more laconic on proposed constitutional amendments, saying the length of the 2012 general election ballot contributed to long lines at the polls.
The governor spent the remainder of the week traveling the state and touting a proposed tax break for manufacturing machinery while calling for performance pay for public employees.
AHCA ESTIMATES TUMBLE AMID SKEPTICISM:
Following a meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Scott lamented to a small cadre of Washington reporters that the costs to Florida of the unfolding health care plan would be catastrophic -- $26 billion over a decade.
"Growing government, it's never free,'' Scott said. "It always costs money."
Scott's lament did not go unnoticed and soon became the grist for critics who said the governor's figures were inflated and inaccurate. Even the Agency for Health Care Administration, an agency under the governor's eye, blinked.
Days after Scott's initial estimates, which were based on earlier AHCA figures, the agency reduced its estimates to a lowball $3 billion over 10 years.
The revisions came after state budget analysts, including the top staff member on the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, raised questions about the assumptions that AHCA had used in the earlier report.
Scott's office continued to defend the higher estimate, which took into account the federal government's historic financial support for Medicaid of about 58 percent. The Affordable Care Act calls for the federal government to fund a minimum of 90 percent of the costs for people who take advantage of expanded Medicaid eligibility.
Unless the federal law changes, House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said lawmakers must base their calculations on what the law says.
"We must follow our process which requires estimates based on current law and practice,'' McKeel said. "This is critical to the integrity of our budgeting process."
ELECTION REFORMS EMERGE:
Following a 2012 election cycle remembered for images of weary voters standing in late-night lines, a series of proposed election reforms appeared to coalesce this week as various stakeholders, from elections supervisors to Scott, weighed in.
Among the top suggestions: Limit the length of ballot initiatives and allow local supervisors to offer more days of early voting in more locations.
Local elections supervisors say they'd like more flexibility in future elections to accommodate the growing number of voters who choose to cast ballots before Election Day. Scott also appears more amenable to extending early voting hours.
The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Election said it would request that the Legislature give county supervisors the option to allow up to 14 days of early voting. Lawmakers reduced the number of early voting days to eight as part of a controversial elections bill approved in 2011.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed a proposed constitutional amendment this week seeking to limit to three the number of proposed amendments the Legislature could put on the ballot in any one election. Clemens has filed another proposal to automatically register voting-age motorists who apply for Florida drivers licenses.
The ballot limitation, if not the sponsor, may have some traction this year. Senate President Don Gaetz has said lengthy amendments may have played a role in long lines and said the Senate would have a high bar for considering proposed amendments while he is president.
But in a state where the public and lawmakers have long used the Constitution to get things done when the Legislature won't, and in a famously decentralized state where locals have a lot of power, could officials really shorten the ballot? And would it actually make a difference?
SCOTT NAMES FIVE TO BOG:
Gov. Rick Scott appointed five new members of the Board of Governors on Thursday, bringing him close to having named a majority of the 17-member panel responsible for overseeing Florida's 12 state universities.
Scott's office announced the appointments of Wayne Huizenga Jr., Ned Lautenbach, Alan Levine, Wendy Link and Edward Morton in a brief news release late Thursday. The five will join three other members of the board that Scott has appointed.
The five were named to seats that were either vacant or where the terms of current board members had expired and those members had not applied to be reappointed. Scott's office has yet to announce what will happen with the seat currently held by Norman Tripp, who has asked for another term.
With the new year behind them, lawmakers did what they do best -- they filed bills. Among a handful of proposals this week is a measure by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to allow same-sex partners to receive some of the benefits – heath care, pension benefits, custodial rights – that are afforded married couples.
The legislation specifically states it is not an attempt to do an end-run around a provision in the Florida Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but it would allow gay Floridians to get some rights approaching marriage.
MANUFACTURING TAX BREAK PROPOSED:
Scott on Wednesday proposed eliminating the sales tax paid by manufacturers when they purchase equipment, part of his ongoing effort to cajole companies to move to Florida and get those already here to add workers.
There already is a sales tax exemption for new equipment, but to qualify companies must prove they've increased their "productive output" by 5 percent after buying the equipment. Until Jan. 1, they had to show they'd increased output by 10 percent, but lawmakers reduced the requirement during last year's legislative session at the urging of Scott.
The proposed break would save companies an estimated $45 million a year.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Agency for Health Care Administration slashes the state's estimated cost of Obamacare from $26 billion to $3 billion.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "In Miami-Dade County, the ballot read like the book of Leviticus – though not as interesting" -- Senate President Don Gaetz in reference to the 12-page ballot that greeted voters in the South Florida county.