With only four days left in the legislative session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron acknowledged it is “unlikely” that lawmakers will agree on an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Negron made the comments as the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on a plan he has drawn up to offer private health insurance to low-income Floridians, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida. The House passed a vastly different proposal last week, and the two chambers remain far apart.
The Stuart Republican said both sides have done their best to try to resolve the issues, but it “might be a bridge too far.” He said he wants to pass a bill to help roughly 1 million people get health insurance.
“That appears unlikely at this point,” Negron said.
Negron also said he thinks it is “improbable” that lawmakers would return to Tallahassee for a special session to address the issue.
The House and Senate are divided, in part, about whether to accept billions of dollars in federal money that otherwise would go to Medicaid expansion. Negron’s plan relies on that money to offer health insurance, while House Republicans have refused to use it to fund their alternative.
Republicans and Democratic senators have backed the Negron plan, which was taken up on the Senate floor Monday as a procedural step before a vote. The discussion was remarkably brief, particularly after House members spent hours debating their alternative last week.
Negron described the plan as an “entrepreneurial approach” that would help people get health insurance. Though the plan would rely mostly on federal funding, Negron tried to reinforce that it is not an expansion of Medicaid, which has long been maligned by Republicans in both chambers.
“Nothing in this bill expands Medicaid,” Negron said. “We don’t want to expand Medicaid.”
Finding an alternative to expanding Medicaid has been one of the highest-profile issues of the 60-day legislative session, which will end Friday. The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, anticipated that states would expand Medicaid eligibility, but Republican legislative leaders balked.
The House proposal (HB 7169) would offer $2,000 subsidies to targeted groups of low-income residents to help them buy health coverage, but it rejects the possibility of drawing down money that would otherwise be used for Medicaid expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, Florida could receive an estimated $51 billion for such an expansion, and the Senate health-insurance plan would also seek to tap that money.
Negron’s plan, which is backed by Gov. Rick Scott, would use the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. as the vehicle for offering health insurance to people whose incomes are up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Florida Healthy Kids Corp. has long run the KidCare program, which offers heavily subsidized private insurance to children from low- and moderate-income families.
Among the effects of the Senate plan is that it would offer coverage to childless adults who are largely barred from getting coverage in Florida’s current Medicaid program. A single person who makes $15,856 a year would be at 138 percent of the federal poverty level; a family of three would meet the threshold with an income of $26,951.
Senators also have considered another alternative to expanding Medicaid that, in some ways, was similar to the House bill. But that bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, was revamped Monday to strip out much of the alternative. The bill (SB 1844) now focuses on bolstering the Florida Health Choices program, a long-planned online health marketplace.