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Federal judge tells Obama administration it must respond to Florida’s request for mediation by noon, Tuesday

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A federal court in Pensacola is ordering the Obama administration to respond to Florida’s request to have its dispute with the federal government over the continuation of Low Income Pool dollars mediated.

In a brief one-page order Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers said before ruling on Florida’s request for mediation the federal government needed to file an expedited response to the request by Tuesday, June 9.

On Monday, attorneys for the governor filed a five-page motion with the federal court in Pensacola that, if granted, would require the state and federal governments to go to mediation. Scott’s lawyers argue that the mediation is allowable under “home rule.”

“Under the circumstances court-ordered mediation would be appropriate to faciliate a decision within a timeframe that allows the Florida Legislature to pass a budget that ensures that state healthcare providers, ranging from trauma centers to children’s hospitals receive the funding necessary to provide critical medical services to needy residents,” the motion reads.

“By introducing a neutral mediator and insulating the process from extraneous influences, court-ordered mediation could facilitate a long overdue conclusion to these negotiations quickly, equitably, permanently, and–perhaps most importantly–constitutionally, and do so in a timeframe that respects, rather than deliberately frustrates, the state’s impending budget deadline.”

The federal government advised Florida in late May that the state could expect to receive a $1 billion supplemental Low Income Pool program for the 2015-16 fiscal year and, additionally, a $600 million program for the 2016-17 year. The tentative green light for a $1 billion program returns LIP funding to prior year levels but would cut it in half from current year spending.

Because of the reductions the Florida Legislature agreed to use $400 million in recurring general revenue to backfill the loss of federal dollars and budget conferees have been meeting over the weekend in hopes of hammering out not just an agreement on the healthcare budget but the entire spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

The decision by legislators to put $400 million in general revenue means Scott’s priorities won’t be funded at the level he requested. When asked how the governor felt about the general revenue being used to backfill the loss of federal dollars his staff over the weekend said the governor was watching the process.

Despite using the $1 billion figure in the budget, the governor’s attorneys argue that the Legislature finds itself in the midst of a special session on the budget but does not have a resolution of LIP.

“The state cannot possibly anticipate at this point whether any semblance of its LIP program will continue to exist or how it will be funded if it exists at all,” attorneys for the governor wrote.

“Each day that passes without a resolution to this matter heightens the tension at the state Capitol …. (and) (d)efendants appear determined to leave the fate of the LIP program in limbo until long after that date–presumably in an effort to coerce the state into expanding Medicaid or to punish the state for failing to ultimately do so.”

The federal government advised Florida last April that the supplemental Medicaid program called Low Income Pool, which was $2 billion in 2014-15 year, would expire this summer. In preparing his budget for the upcoming fiscal year Scott assumed the full $2 billion would be available. Scott’s proposed budget included record increases for education funding as well as more than $600 million in tax reductions.

In the spring federal officials from CMS reiterated at an Associated Industries of Florida-sponsored health summit in Orlando that the LIP would not be extended in its current form. The Legislature did not know how much LIP money it could expect to receive for the 2015-16 year and. as such, was not able to pass a budget and adjourn the session on time.

Scott sued the federal government in court and also requested a temporary injunction that, if approved, would require the feds to keep funding LIP at $2 billion.

A hearing on that has been set for July 19 in Pensacola.

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