Associated Industries quietly preparing to launch push for changes to Florida’s health care system

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While the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the 2010 federal health overhaul, the business group Associated Industries of Florida has been quietly preparing to launch a major push for changes in the state’s health-care system, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Tom Feeney, AIF’s president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday the group has been working with what he described as “some of the best and brightest health-care policy people” for about three months and likely will take steps such as holding a health-care summit later this year. He said the association expects a multi-year effort that involves seeking legislative and regulatory changes, including during the 2013 session.

“This is a complex jigsaw puzzle,” said Feeney, a former House speaker and Central Florida congressman. “It’s a puzzle that will move and change over time” in response to a variety of factors.

AIF did not plan to announce the initiative before the Supreme Court rules Thursday on the federal health law. But The News Service of Florida learned of the group’s effort in an e-mail that Feeney sent to an aide to Gov. Rick Scott.

In the e-mail and in a telephone interview Tuesday, Feeney did not disclose details of changes that AIF might seek. An attachment to the e-mail lists broad “draft guiding principles” that include increasing access to affordable, high-quality health care for Floridians; reducing costs for employers; educating patients to make appropriate health-care choices; and minimizing government involvement in managing the way health services are delivered.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules Thursday, the decision will have major ramifications for health-care policy decisions in Florida. Justices could approve the law, toss it out entirely or approve parts and reject others — all of which would have myriad effects on issues such as health insurance, regulations and the state’s Medicaid system.

Feeney described the ruling as a “cathartic event.”

Similarly, Michael Garner, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Association of Health Plans, said a “policy window” might be opening to try to address core questions such as how to ensure residents have access to quality health care.

“How do we get there?” Garner said

Florida policymakers in recent years have focused heavily on revamping the Medicaid system, with lawmakers approving a massive plan last year to eventually shift almost all Medicaid beneficiaries into managed-care plans. Federal Medicaid officials are reviewing that plan.

But even if the state moves forward with the Medicaid changes, the state’s health-care system faces huge challenges, such as steadily increasing costs that have made it harder for consumers and businesses to afford coverage. A 2011 U.S. Census report, for example, found that more than 1 in 5 Floridians lacked health insurance.

Feeney said businesses have interests in the health-care debate that go beyond the premiums they might pay for employees. He said businesses are interested in having a healthy workforce. Also, he said premiums help subsidize care for uninsured people and business taxes help pay for the growing costs of Medicaid and Medicare.

“The Medicaid and Medicare cost drivers in health care today are simply unsustainable for our country,” Feeney said.

If AIF or other groups try to make major changes in the system, however, they will have to navigate complex — and often-conflicting —health-care constituencies.

As an example, business and insurance groups have long called for reducing the number of coverage requirements in health-insurance policies, contending that the so-called “mandates” increase costs. But they have run into fierce opposition in the Legislature from groups that say the requirements are needed to ensure that policies will cover different types of illnesses or conditions.

But Garner, who said he is familiar with AIF’s effort, said some changes could be made that would benefit numerous constituencies. As a hypothetical, he said an effort could be made to reduce avoidable patient readmissions to hospitals, which would be better for patients, health-care providers and employers that pay for coverage.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.