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Now is not the time to back off healthcare access, Senate Prez Andy Gardiner tells members

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Senate President Andy Gardiner sent a memo to members on Thursday advising that the tentative $1 billion approval of Low Income Pool funds for fiscal year 2015-16 does not mean that Florida’s healthcare debate is over.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

“The news brings certainty to what we have known for over a year–the LIP program is changing and Florida needs a new way to address uncompensated care,” Gardner said in his memo to members.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised Florida early Thursday that it tentatively would renew the Low Income Pool for $1 billion in fiscal year 2015-16 and another $600 million for fiscal year 2016-17. While the announcement is certain to help Florida lawmakers build a budget when they come back into special session June 1-20, Gardiner noted in his memo that the $1 billion is less than half of the amount Florida had for the current year, causing the Senate president to describe the figure as a “step back.”

“It remains clear that a sustainable long-term solution is needed. As you are aware, the Senate has proposed a Florida solution that will promote the well-being of our constituents and protect the fiscal health of our state,” Gardiner wrote.

In announcing the preliminary news CMS offered ways that Florida could increase the amount of federal funding that flowed into the state, including increasing the amount of money it puts toward hospital base rates (which LIP supplements) or increasing the rates paid to Medicaid managed-care plans, which should help hospitals that contract with the plans. Both of those would draw down additional federal Medicaid dollars at the traditional matching rate.

“While the letter from CMS outlines a number of policy alternatives, none of these options will allow Florida to maximize both state and federal taxpayer dollars in a more effective manner than by reducing the number of uninsured Floridians seeking basic health care in hospital emergency rooms. Clearly, a conservative free-market expansion of healthcare coverage is the most fiscally responsible approach.

“While we may not agree with every policy decision that comes from the federal government, I do agree that coverage, rather than backend supplemental payments, is a better investment for our taxpayers. With today’s direction from the federal government, we will continue to work towards a responsible long-term Florida solution. Special Session will give us the opportunity to address health care within the context of our budget. I look forward to seeing you on June 1.”

In a memo to his members, meanwhile, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the House was reviewing the letter and is seeking additional input from the Agency for Health Care Administration and CMS.

“Until then, I believe the clear indication before the Special Session is Florida will receive a significant level of LIP funds, which will help us in our efforts to finish the budget by the July 1 deadline,” Crisafulli wrote in the memo.

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