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Andy Gardiner says Senate will talk Medicaid, health care with ‘anybody at a any time’

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Senate President Andy Gardiner made an appearance at the A Healthy Florida Works press conference on Tuesday, joining a group of business leaders who are supporting his chamber’s plan to draw down Medicaid dollars and provide access to health care for as many as 800,000 uninsured Floridians.

With less than three weeks left in the 2015 regular session, the group called on the Florida House of Representatives to join the Florida Senate and support a Medicaid expansion as proposed in Senate bill CS/SB 7044. The so-called FHIX program borrows heavily from the principles advocated by A Healthy Florida Works and would expand Medicaid to low-income Floridians but also would have work requirements and co-payments for services.

When Gardiner went to the podium to speak to the crowd, which included the chief executive officers of some of Florida’s biggest hospitals, it gave lengthy applause.

Gardiner told the crowd that the Senate is willing to “sit at the table and talk to anybody at any time.”

Health care has been a divisive issue this session, due largely to the pending elimination of $2 billion in Medicaid supplemental dollars known as the Low Income Pool. LIP expires this summer and the state has been negotiating with the federal government to try to get it extended. LIP is used to help reduce the burden of uncompensated care but also is targeted toward graduate medical education, federally qualified health centers and Medicaid HMOs.

Florida has not implemented a Medicaid expansion as envisioned in the federal healthcare law, often called Obamacare. As the state has tried to renegotiate the Medicaid LIP dollars, the federal government has made clear that there is a nexus between LIP and Medicaid expansion.

As a result, the Senate has proposed a Medicaid expansion and has in its budget both LIP dollars and  federal money for Medicaid expansion. The House budget contains neither.

With 18 days left in the regular session, the chambers have been unable to agree on a spending plan and have not been negotiating the differences. Talk of the session not being completed on time has grown louder.

In the meantime, negotiations between the Agency for Health Care and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on the Low Income Pool have come to a standstill, with the state accusing the federal government of refusing to meet.

Gardiner wasn’t alone at the press conference. He brought with him some of the most influential senators: State Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman; state Sen. Bill Galvano, the Senate majority leader; state Sen. Aaron Bean, the Senate Health Policy Committee chairman; state Sen. Garrett Richter, Senate pro tempore and state Sen. Rene Garcia, chairman of the health care spending appropriations subcommittee.

Gardiner did make a joke at his own expense saying that he wasn’t the Senate president —  “he was just the travel agent for Garrett and Rene.”

Both the Governor’s Office and the House of Representatives have criticized the trip the senators took to Baltimore to discuss how negotiations had been going.

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