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Lawmakers building a veto-proof healthcare budget

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Florida’s legislative leaders are trying to make the healthcare financing decisions they made during the June special session veto-proof.

The Florida House and Senate were at odds throughout the 2015 regular legislative session on health care spending and policy. Indeed, the inability to agree on how much additional Medicaid funding to include the budget was the reason the chamber’s didn’t pass a budget on time.

But that was then and this is now. House and Senate leaders not only agreed to $400 million in recurring general revenue dollars for hospital funding they appear to have agreed to a strategy to buffer their hard-won compromise from a potential veto from Gov. Rick Scott who during the regular session made clear that he did not support back-filling the loss of any Low Income Pool dollars with general revenue.

The Senate’s chief budget writer, state Sen. Tom Lee, told reporters that the agreement to Low Income Pool funding was one of the “linchpins” that was able to bridge the House and Senate working again on the 2015-16 budget.

“Since that was a huge priority to the Senate, and we understand that not everyone supports putting general revenue into back-filling LIP, we wanted to make sure that the critical pieces of that were part of this agreement that brought us together didn’t get unraveled after when we left here for session,” Lee said.

“We have had a priority to continue to stabilize the healthcare system while we look for long-term solutions. And in the interim we just think it would do irreparable harm to the system to allow the executive branch to go in and unravel that transaction that took place in the legislative process. We tried to do as much as we could to keep that agreement together.”

To that end, buried in the mounds of paper that House and Senate budget chiefs signed off on was language that stated the two chambers agreed to reference a 53-page document in the General Appropriations Act as well as a proviso called the Medicaid Hospital Funding Programs. It is the 53-page Low Income Pool offer the House made to the Senate.

Incorporating the document by reference means that there will be no dollar amount listed by the appropriation. Scott can veto an appropriation in a substantive bill without vetoing the underlying policy. Without a dollar amount, the governor would have to veto the entire bill to eliminate the spending.

The chambers agreed to putting language in the conforming bill that notes if any portion of the General Appropriations Act is unconstitutional then “all other provisions or applications of this act invalid” and that “the entire act shall be deemed to never have become law.”

Though included in the conforming bill, which is permanent law, the chambers agreed to repeal the language effective July 2016.

Lee said the House knew that hospital funding and stabilizing the healthcare environment in the aftermath of the loss of $1 billion in Low Income Pool funding was a priority for the Senate. As such, Lee said the House was “accommodating” when it came to including the comfort language throughout the bills.

Matt Hudson, chief writer for the House healthcare budget, said the language was put in the bills at the behest of the Senate but may unnecessary.

“I think at the end of the day the governor is going to be very pleased with the work we have.”

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