In interview, Gaetz says he is looking for “melded” health plan

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Senate President Don Gaetz on Wednesday praised House Speaker Will Weatherford for “putting a stake in the ground” on Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act and said the two chambers are trying to agree on an alternative plan to help vulnerable Floridians, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

“I think by the end of the session, we’ll have some sort of a melded plan,” Gaetz said during an interview on the television show, “Florida Face to Face.”

Gaetz’s comments came as senators consider two, widely different approaches to trying to provide health services to low-income people.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron has proposed a plan — dubbed the Healthy Florida program — that would rely heavily on federal money to help low-income people buy private health insurance. Negron describes the approach as offering “premium assistance” to people who, otherwise, could be eligible for the Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean this week introduced a plan — dubbed the Health Choice Plus program — that would use state money to help people below 100 percent of the federal poverty level pay for health services. Bean’s proposal would be more limited than Negron’s plan and would not tap into federal funding.

While Weatherford and his lieutenants have not offered a proposal, Gaetz said an idea is floating around the House that is at least somewhat similar to the Bean plan. Weatherford and other House Republican leaders have repeatedly said they do not want to rely on federal funding, contending that Florida taxpayers ultimately might get stuck with paying unexpected costs.

“What we’re interested in in the Florida House is creating a sustainable plan — a plan that addresses the true safety-net needs of the state of Florida and at the same time is sustainable by the state,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Tuesday.

During the television interview Wednesday, Gaetz also seemed to suggest moving toward a targeted program.

“I think that probably the sweet spot is somewhere near premium assistance for certain groups of people that are the most vulnerable,” Gaetz said. “That’s where I hope we’ll get to.”

If lawmakers do not expand Medicaid or pursue something like Negron’s plan, they would forgo tens of billions of dollars in federal money over the next decade. Democrats criticized that possibility Wednesday as the House Appropriations Committee approved a proposed 2013-14 budget, which did not include Medicaid-expansion money.

“It will affect the poorest of Floridians who will not have health-care insurance, individuals that I represent and that many of us represent,” House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said.

But Gaetz said Weatherford should get credit for “putting a stake in the ground, saying, ‘We’re not going to do this all Washington’s way.’ ”

Gaetz also echoed Weatherford’s skepticism of assurances that the federal government would pay the vast majority of the Medicaid expansion costs, comparing people in Washington to the “Hatfields and McCoys” who can’t pass a federal budget.

The Senate president said it is a matter of finding “common ground where we can be fair to Florida taxpayers” but also said he thinks lawmakers need to take action.

“I don’t feel it would be right to leave Tallahassee and do nothing about uninsured in Florida,” Gaetz said. “But at the same point, I agree with Speaker Weatherford that we can’t rely on the federal government to do for us what they can’t even do for themselves, and that is predictable funding.”

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.