Health & Human Services budget negotiations ‘troublesome’

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House and Senate negotiators remained far apart Thursday night on a health- and human-services budget, leaving major questions about funding for hospitals and programs such as mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

“I think we have some real divides there,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said before negotiators held a brief — and seemingly testy — meeting. “That is an area that could be troublesome.”

With a staff member speed-reading through a spreadsheet, the Senate offered few substantive changes in its negotiating positions during the conference-committee meeting. House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples, offered a cursory thank you, said “meeting adjourned” and sped out of the room without further comment.

Senate Health and Human Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the two sides could meet again Friday, though no meetings were immediately scheduled.

Thursday night’s meeting and lack of agreement was reminiscent of a breakdown in talks last year. That led to many major health- and human-service budget issues being “bumped” out of the House and Senate conference committee — and getting resolved by House Appropriations Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Negron said part of the difficult in reaching agreement is that the House’s initial budget plan called for spending more money on health and human services than the Senate’s initial budget plan. To reach a compromise, he said that means House negotiators have to look for ways to trim their initial plan, while Senate negotiators have more money than they initially expected.

“I’d rather be in the position we’re in,” Negron said.

The differences cover a wide range of issues, including cuts in Medicaid payments to hospitals. The House proposed nearly $292 million in hospital rate cuts, while the Senate offered a complicated funding proposal that did not include straight rate cuts — but which hospitals feared would have the effect of even deeper reductions than the House proposal.

Negron has agreed to do straight rate cuts, but the two sides will have to agree on the level of reductions.

Another high-profile difference is that the House proposed $76.1 million in Medicaid rate cuts for nursing homes, while the Senate did not propose any cuts. Meanwhile, the Senate proposed deep cuts in funding for adult mental-health and substance-abuse treatment programs, while the House wants to shield those programs from reductions.

The Senate proposal also includes accepting $438.5 million in federal money to help increase Medicaid payments to primary-care physicians. Hudson has said the House will not go along because it does not want to use money stemming from the 2010 federal health-care overhaul — an overhaul that Florida Republicans are challenging in court.

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.