House passes Medicaid overhaul

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Five years after a controversial pilot program began in Broward and Duval counties, the Florida House on Thursday approved a statewide proposal to shift Medicaid beneficiaries into managed-care plans, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The Republican-dominated House voted 80-38 along almost straight party lines to approve a bill that details a five-year process for overhauling the Medicaid program. Another bill needed to carry out the changes passed 78-39.

Supporters said the plan would improve care for Medicaid beneficiaries, reduce widespread fraud and control costs in the $20 billion program.

“This bill is about reform,” said Health Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples. “This bill is about taking a look at where we are today and asking a very simple question: Are you satisfied with the status quo?”

But Democrats said the plan would be a boon to for-profit HMOs, which likely would receive contracts to manage care for hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.

“This is a giveaway of $20 billion to folks that work out of the sunshine, because we’re going to ask somebody else to deal with our poor Floridians,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Opponents also questioned the move to a statewide managed-care system, because they said the pilot has been unpopular in Broward County. Along with Broward and Duval, the pilot now operates in Baker, Clay and Nassau counties.

“Not once have I ever heard anyone involved in this pilot program in Broward County say they liked it, it was good for them or it was quality health care,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat from the Broward town of Dania Beach.

But bill sponsor Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the plan includes major differences from the pilot program. For example, HMOs and other types of managed-care plans would have to compete for contracts in eight different regions of the state, which could help hold them accountable for performing well.

Also, the plan includes financial penalties if HMOs pull out of the program before the end of their five-year contracts. Critics say HMOs withdrawals from pilot counties have caused turmoil for patients.

Continue reading Jim Saunders story here.

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.