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Politics

Weekly Roundup: Seems Like Old Times

May 7, 2015 - 6:00pm

As the legislative session melted down last month, Gov. Rick Scott appeared to be taking a hands-off approach.

It's not that the issues eluded him. After all, the meltdown focused on a battle between the House and Senate about expanding health-care coverage. And long before Scott became governor, he was a high-flying hospital executive. It's safe to say he knows more about providing and financing health care than most people in the Capitol.

But while the House and Senate sputtered and stumbled, Scott largely stayed out of the limelight.

No more. This week, Scott headed to Washington to meet with the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to try to shake loose $2.2 billion in health-care funding. He didn't get the answers he wanted. But maybe that's not surprising, since his administration also is suing the federal government about the funding and coverage issues.

The fallout, however, might not be clear until lawmakers return for a special session in June and try to bridge their health-care differences. The pressure will be on, as lawmakers -- and Scott -- need to have a budget in place by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

SCOTT V. OBAMA, AGAIN:

Scott got into politics by taking on President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the health-care system. And though he took a brief detour in 2013 by endorsing Medicaid expansion, Scott seems to be back in the anti-Washington groove.

The Republican met Wednesday with Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as Florida seeks federal approval of an extension of the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program, which is scheduled to expire June 30. Uncertainty about funding for that program has played a major role in the budget impasse between the House and Senate.

The Low Income Pool, or as it is known and loved in Tallahassee, the "LIP" program, has become tangled in a fight about a Senate proposal to use $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to about 800,000 low-income residents.

In a nutshell, the Senate and other supporters of the plan say the coverage expansion -- which would be an outgrowth of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare -- could help in the Low Income Pool negotiations with the federal government. LIP mostly sends money to hospitals and other health providers that care for large numbers of poor and uninsured people.

Federal officials say a coverage expansion and LIP should be considered together. That is because providing coverage to more people could ease some of the LIP costs. But Scott and House Republican leaders fiercely oppose taking any action on a coverage expansion that has the whiff of Obamacare.

After the meeting Wednesday, Burwell cast doubt on the approval of the state's latest proposal to extend LIP. That proposal does not include Medicaid expansion, or the Senate's similar expansion plan.

"Secretary Burwell shared a preliminary view that the proposal currently posted for public comment in Florida falls short of the key principles HHS will use in considering proposals regarding uncompensated care pool programs, and the size of the proposed LIP appears larger than what matches the principles," a statement from the agency said.

Scott tried to switch the onus to officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is under Burwell's department.

"If we do not get any answer from CMS in the next few weeks, their inaction is the same as a 'no' and we will prepare to go into a special session to do a base budget that keeps government running," Scott said in a statement issued by his office. "I told (Burwell) that we need federal action right now. The low-income families in our state cannot wait on the federal government any longer."

As Democrats and some Republican senators have pointed out, however, Scott has taken an unusual approach to winning friends and influencing people in Washington. The state is suing the feds to try to prevent them from linking a Medicaid-funded expansion to the decision about LIP funding.

A day after Scott's meeting with Burwell, the state asked a federal judge in Pensacola for an injunction to bar the Department of Health and Human Services from considering whether the state has expanded Medicaid as the agency weighs the LIP issue.

TIME TO GET TO WORK:

The messy end of the regular legislative session has been well-documented. The House closed up shop three days early, angering the Senate, spawning a lawsuit and killing piles of bills.

But starting June 1, the GOP-dominated House and the GOP-dominated Senate will get a chance to mend fences.

It's not quite clear how that will happen, unless one side budges on the health coverage issue. But with a special session now scheduled to begin June 1 and run as late as June 20, lawmakers at least have a timeframe for the work.

"While significant discussions lay before us, today marks a very good day for Florida as we have reached agreement on dates for a budget special session," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a prepared statement Wednesday as the special-session dates were announced. "We look forward to working with our partners in the Senate as we make continued progress in the weeks ahead."

Agreeing on a budget, obviously, will be the main focus of the special session. But the two sides have not put out a list of topics that will be considered during the session. That could make it interesting as lobbyists and lawmakers try to resurrect issues that appeared dead at the end of the regular session.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The things that were worth working on this year will be worth working on next year. All of these good pieces of legislation will be back until they pass." -- National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, making clear that lawmakers will again see bills that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and allow some public-school employees and volunteers to be armed. The bills did not pass during the regular session.

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