House poised to pass Medicaid overhaul

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The Florida House is ready to remake Medicaid into a managed-care program, despite questions Tuesday from Democratic lawmakers about whether the changes would hurt patients, reports Jim Saunders of Health News Florida.

The Republican-dominated House likely will vote Thursday on its Medicaid plan, setting up complicated negotiations with the Senate about how to overhaul the $20 billion program.

House members spent nearly two hours Tuesday sparring about details of their plan — which is spread across two bills — and voting on 25 proposed amendments. As a sign of the partisan divisions on the issue, all 20 Republican-sponsored amendments passed, and all five Democratic amendments were killed.

House Health and Human Services Chairman Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, said the plan would improve care for Medicaid beneficiaries while also helping control the program’s spiraling costs.

But Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, questioned whether increasing the role of for-profit managed-care companies in Medicaid would lead to limiting services for beneficiaries.

“How could it be that someone could make a profit without limiting services, when your (Medicaid) population is not healthy to begin with?” Schwartz asked.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said HMOs and other managed-care plans will have incentives to provide quality care. At least in part, that is because plans will have to compete to win contracts in eight regions of the state.

“We built a lot of safeguards into the bill to make sure these people receive the proper care they are entitled to,” said Wood, chairman of the House Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee.

At one point, Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, took a dig at Republican Gov. Rick Scott by questioning whether the Solantic urgent-care chain could contract with HMOs and make money from the overhaul. Scott helped found the chain and transferred his interest to his wife in January.

Schenck initially responded that he was not “familiar with what Solantic is.” But when pressed, he said the bill doesn’t put restrictions on HMOs contracting with health providers.

“That’s up to the HMO who they want to contract with,” Schenck said.

House and Senate leaders have made a top priority this year of revamping the Medicaid program. The Senate version of the overhaul will get its first vote Wednesday in the Health Regulation Committee. Continue reading Saunders’ story at Health News Florida 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.