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Kathy Castor rallies support for Senate Medicaid plan

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U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is calling on Florida House Republicans to approve a plan to extend subsidized health coverage to 800,000 uninsured Floridians.

During a press conference at the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, Castor rallied a couple of House Democrats, a union VP and a hospital representative in an attempt to demonstrate broad support for a Senate proposal that would draw down $51 billion in federal funding to pay for expanded health coverage for the working poor.

The GOP-controlled House has been reluctant to entertain even the most modest of Medicaid expansion proposals for myriad reasons, including fear the federal government may not hold up its end of the bargain. They also contend Medicaid is a broken system and taxes should not pay to expand what’s already broken.

But a revised Senate plan largely addresses those concerns. If the federal government doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, the state can pull the plug on expanding healthcare access to the poor. They’ve also updated the plan to place enrollees directly into a private system instead of into the state-run Medicaid.

To sweeten the deal for the conservative House, the Senate has also included provisions that would establish minimum requirements for job hunting, including a mandate that unemployed people in the program enroll in CareerSource Florida to help them find a job.

“We need your help,” Castor said, urging constituents to contact their representatives. “We have got to convince our Republican House members to get to the bargaining table and bring our tax dollars home.”

At issue is the state budget. Passing one is the only mandated requirement of the Legislature and they failed to get it done during the legislative session. House leadership pulled the plug on the session earlier, arguing they wouldn’t be able to agree on a budget during the final days of session.

“I want to apologize on behalf of my legislature for the dereliction of duty in walking away from work,” said Tampa state Rep. Janet Cruz.

The biggest and perhaps sole sticking point in the budget was a gap created by an estimated $1 billion loss in Low Income Pool funding that reimburses hospitals for some of its uncompensated care. The federal government is scaling the program back because, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, expanded Medicaid should reduce the cost of indigent care.

But since Florida has still not expanded its system, those numbers aren’t expected to shrink.

“Rather than this inefficient Low Income Pool [that doesn’t] fit in the modern health delivery system anymore,” Castor said. “The more efficient and wise use of our tax dollars is coverage so that folks can see a doctor on a regular basis, not just giving uncompensated care payments to hospitals and leaving people out.”

Bruce Rueben with the Florida Hospital Association agreed House Republicans should accept the Senate’s plan when they return to Tallahassee for a special session on Monday.

“Why would the business community come together to support such an effort?” Rueben asked. “Because we know that it is the most cost-effective way to deal with the healthcare challenges that our state faces.”

Rueben is also with the group Healthy Florida Works, which represents more than 200 hospitals across the state.

Even the location of Castor’s press conference was an attempt to stamp out rampant partisanship that has arisen in the Florida healthcare debate. The St. Petersburg Chamber is also on board with the Senate’s plan, which they see as a good compromise to protect both the state and its taxpayers.

“We talk about, ‘let’s get back to work.’ Let’s get healthy and get back to work,” said state Rep. Dwight Dudley.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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