Andy Gardiner punts on healthcare funding question

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Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, whose son has Down syndrome, focused on the needs of Floridians with “unique abilities” in his remarks at Wednesday’s Associated Press legislative planning session.

When later asked about what was arguably the most pressing issue of last session, paying for hospitals’ charity care, Gardiner – a hospital executive – largely took a pass.

“I don’t want to get into all the LIP stuff, but … there is going to be another reduction” of the federal government’s help to pay for that care, he said. “The Legislature will have to determine what is the best path. Do you put more general revenue in? Do you look at some of the different ideas floating out there?”

Charity care, or uncompensated medical treatment, was the issue that fractured the last legislative session, with the chambers split on Medicaid expansion and funding the Low Income Pool, or LIP, the federal-state pool of money that goes to hospitals.

Simply put, LIP money goes to reimburse hospitals that treat patients who aren’t insured and can’t afford to pay.

The federal government wants Florida to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to insure more working poor Floridians. The Senate drew its own plan to do so, but the House Republican majority has been vehemently opposed.

Meantime, the feds have said they will gradually reduce their contribution to LIP, once a $2.2 billion combined fund, to nothing over the next two years.

The charity care funding question remains largely unresolved. When pressed for an answer on how to fix LIP this upcoming session, Gardiner said, “I think it remains to be seen … We’ll have to see what’s proposed.”

The state instituted a managed-care program for the state’s patients who use Medicaid, the state-federal healthcare program for the poor. But state economists have said cost savings from managed care aren’t as much as projected.

Gardiner said all the healthcare-related bills this session will be vetted by state Sen. Aaron Bean‘s Health Policy Committee. That will include any bills addressing uncompensated care.

“The question will be, ultimately, do we want to use more general revenue?” he said, referring to the state’s income from taxes and various fees. “We’ll work it out … We’re open to any innovative idea.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.