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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Pastors Pray for Medicaid Expansion

March 20th, 2013 by flanews

A group of religious leaders, House Democrats and union workers are praying for Florida to expand Medicaid.

The Federal Government is offering the state 20 billion dollars to expand the entitlement program to a million more Floridians. House Minority Leader Perry Thurston joined the clergy this morning to pray outside the House Chamber. Thurston is open to any plan that would expand coverage.

“We are encouraged by any effort to provide medical services to the needy portion of our community,” said Thurston.

Governor Rick Scott is onboard with the expansion. The Senate is offering an alternative plan that would still allow a million extra people to gain coverage. The lone hold out is the House.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medicaid Expansion Dead

March 11th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

The Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection Act today voted seven to four not to expand Medicaid to a million Floridians. The vote was along party lines. Governor Rick Scott had called for the expansion for three years. But the committee chairman, Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart says he wants a Florida solution to the problem of the uninsured.

“We don’t want Washington telling Florida how to provide insurance for people, and the traditional Medicaid expansion really puts people into a system that’s precarious. What I would like to explore is using available federal and perhaps state dollars to provide private health insurance for our fellow Floridians who work everyday” says Negron.

Advocate Karen Woodall from the Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says she was prepared for the loss and sees hope that the discussion is not over. 

“But I think it was important the message was we are going to continue this conversation. We recognize we need to bring our federal tax dollars back into this state and we want to work on some alternative plans” says Woodall. 

 The Federal Government would have paid the total cost of the expansion for the first three years. After that, the states share would have been ten cents on the dollar.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Gaetz Mum on Medicaid

March 8th, 2013 by flanews

There’s a standoff at the state capitol over the Medicaid expansion. Governor Rick Scott came out first, asking the legislature to expand the entitlement program. Then House Speaker Will Weatherford fired back this week with a resounding NO. Whitney Ray spoke to the lone hold out today in Tallahassee, Senate President Don Gaetz.

All eyes were on Senate President Don Gaetz, Friday as he spoke to a crowd of business professionals. The question on everyone’s mind, will Gaetz side with House Speaker Will Weatherford or Governor Rick Scott on Medicaid expansion?

During the State of the State address Scott reasserted his support for a massive Medicaid expansion.

“I can not in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care,” said Scott.

A million more Floridians would qualify for coverage if state lawmakers accept the 20 billion dollars to expand the entitlement program.

But right now the expansion is dead. House Speaker Will Weatherford is opposing the governor over opposition from Democrats in his chamber and some Republicans.

“We are a donor state. The federal government wants to give us our money back. Let’s use those dollars to help the little guy and little girl,” said House Republican Mike Fasano.

“If we can help families and we can help them early, we can actually save lives,” said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston.

If the House continues to opposition the expansion, the senate’s decision won’t matter. But if Gaetz does move to accept the money, it could influence the House.

“I want to be very, very prudent about this. There could be alternatives to Medicaid expansion the way that Obamacare envisions it,” said Gaetz.

The only deadline Gaetz is putting on the Senate’s decision is before the end of session. Gaetz says there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the Medicaid expansion. He wants his chamber to try to get answers before moving forward.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

10K Petition State Lawmakers for Medicaid

February 18th, 2013 by flanews

They couldn’t make the trip to Tallahassee so instead they signed a petition. More than 10-thousand Floridians have signed a letter asking state lawmakers to except federal money to expand Medicaid. The Medicaid expansion was made optional through the Affordable Care Act. It would allow an extra one million Floridians to claim the entitlement. Tori Rosenberg a supporter of the expansion says expanding Medicaid would save the state money by providing preventative health care.

“And in turn we’ll save a lot of money because it will be preventative. So people that wait that don’t have insurance, don’t got to the doctor, they don’t go to the hospital until the last minute when they do go, that’s when the costs come out really high,” said Rosenberg.

If Florida chooses to expand Medicaid then the federal government would pay the bulk of the bill for 10 years. Lawmakers worry who would pay after that.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medicaid Expansion Savings

February 11th, 2013 by flanews

By now you may have heard how expensive Obamacare could be but now we are hearing it could actually save the state money. As Whitney Ray tells us, a Georgetown researcher claims the Medicaid expansion optional under Obamacare could save Florida 100 million dollars a year.

A multi-billion dollar decision will be made at the state capitol this spring. The legislature must choose whether or not to expand Medicaid. The expansion would allow an extra million people to claim benefits.

But the people in charge of making the decision are the same folks who tried to stop Obamacare in court. They lost the larger lawsuit, but were able to make the Medicaid expansion optional for each state.

Since then Governor Rick Scott has been building a case against the expansion predicting state costs as high as 26 billion dollars.

State lawmakers heard testimony to the contrary Monday. Georgetown Researcher Joan Alker says Florida could actually save money by expanding Medicaid.

“It would be much better to give these people preventative and primary care upfront. They won’t have to bankrupt themselves and hopefully they won’t get as sick and wind up in the hospital,” said Alker.

The savings could be as high as 100 million dollars a year. The predication is based on the expansion offsetting other state costs like mental heath services, substance abuse programs and emergency room visits.

“We are spending some taxpayer dollars on these folks already so we think the state should take a careful look at it’s budget see where these costs are today, pick up the federal dollars to cover those folks primarily at federal cost and give them better care on the bargain,” said Alker.

The study fingers prevention as the main source of the costs savings. Still opponents aren’t ready to bite just yet. They say even though Florida may save money, the federal government will still have to borrow to pay the state.

Florida has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation. Counting children there are nearly four million people in the state without coverage.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

FHA Medicaid Expansion Poll

February 8th, 2013 by flanews

State lawmakers will soon have to decide whether or not Florida will participate in the Medicaid expansion made optional under Obamacare.

Today the Florida Hospital Association released a poll claiming six out of 10 voters want the expansion. Six hundred Florida voters were surveyed for the poll. FHA President Bruce Rueben says if lawmakers pass on the Medicaid dollars they’ll just go to another state.

“The fact that we will pay for this regardless of whether we accept the coverage means we will have an even bigger amount of uncompensated care,” said Rueben.

The Federal Government is promising to pick up 90 percent of the expansion cost through the first 10 years. Governor Rick Scott and state lawmakers worry who will pay for the program once the federal promise expires.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medicaid Expansion Cost Confusion

January 11th, 2013 by flanews

Call it rhetoric, spin, or just playing it safe, but whatever you call the 26 billion dollar price tag Governor Rick Scott is putting on the Medicaid expansion, one thing’s certain, it’s getting a lot of attention. The state now has three different estimates for the optional potion of Obamacare and as Whitney Ray tells us, Scott’s still touting the highest one, even after his administration released a much lower figure.

One of the harshest critics of the Affordable Care Act, Governor Rick Scott entered the political conversation with one goal in mind; defeating Obamacare.

But a failed lawsuit in the US Supreme Court and a Republican defeat in the 2012 presidential election left Scott with little choice but to play ball, or so it seemed.

Florida has to go along with most of the new health care laws, although Scott will have to decide whether or not to participate in a Medicaid expansion and this is where his math gets tricky.

Originally state economists put a 10 billion dollar price tag on the expansion over a 10 year period. Then Scott, through the Agency for Health Care Administration, released a new estimate; 26 billion dollars. The new figure caught the ire of health care advocates and, after some bad press, AHCA changed its estimate to 3 billion.

Reporters questioned AHCA’s secretary about the conflicting numbers, but no explanation was given.

“At this point in time we’ve put out our numbers, our assumptions are there and I really don’t have any more to say about it,” said Secretary Elizabeth Dudek.

Health Care advocates say Scott is using the highest estimate to build a case against expanding Medicaid, even though the federal government has vowed to pickup the lion share of the cost.

So how did Scott come up with 26 billion dollars? The expansion would allow an extra 900-thousand Floridians claim Medicaid benefits. Scott’s estimate assumes every eligible person will enroll, then accounts for extra operating costs and a reduction in the amount of money the federal government pays. By the way, it would take an act of Congress for the feds to cut the contribution rate.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

County Medicaid Costs to Rise

March 19th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

County governments in Florida stand to spend an additional $155 million taking care of Medicaid patients in Florida hospitals under legislation approved by state lawmakers this year. That’s why, as Mike Vasilinda reports, county governments are asking Governor Rick Scott to veto the legislation.

Florida counties pay a portion of lengthy hospital stays and nursing home care for low income people receiving Medicaid.

Legislation approved in the just concluded 2012 session would change how the state bills the counties. The counties have written Governor Rick Scott, asking for a veto They say they are not being allowed to challenge billing errors. In their letter they say it is like not allowing their taxpayers to question errors in a credit card bill.

It’s common sense that we review our bills before we pay them,” Cragin Mosteller, with the Florida Association of Counties said. “It’s common sense that we have the chance to challenge anything that’s incorrect. But unfortunately, with this new bill, counties won’t have the chance to do that, which means the taxpayers foot the bill.”

Statewide, the cost shift to local taxpayers could be as much as 155 million dollars a year.

The counties say the bills are rife with errors, including being billed for out-of-state patients and even being billed for the same patient 15 times.

But Lawmakers pushing the change want counties to pay up first and argue later.

There were some billings that were questioned, so we provided a 15 percent discount, so counties only have to pay 85 percent,” Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) said.

Some of the billing disputes go back at least four years, to the time the current billing system was implemented.

Florida is one of the few states in the nation to shift Medicaid costs to local governments.

Posted in State News | 6 Comments »

Nurses Ask Lawmakers to Fund Medicaid

February 2nd, 2012 by flanews

Nurses from across the state were in Tallahassee today asking lawmakers to leave Medicaid funding in tact. Lawmakers are considering cutting 400 million state dollars from Medicaid, which would in turn eliminate 1.4 billion matching federal dollars the state receives for the entitlement program. Suzanne Conrad, a nurse practitioner at Shands in Gainesville says if funding is cut her patients wont be able to get the drugs they need for organ transplants.

Theres Medically Needy patients that desperately need services and I know almost every year its mentioned that this program could be cut, said Conrad.

Twenty nurses worked the halls today. Earlier this week 40 nurses were at the capitol. They hope to keep a presence in Tallahassee until the end of session to remind lawmakers of their cause.

Posted in Health, State Budget, State News | 3 Comments »

AARP Survey Says GOP Votes Want SS and Medicaid Protected

November 10th, 2011 by flanews

The message coming from AARP tonight is clear: If you want to become president, leave Social Security and Medicare alone.

AARP released a survey of Republican voters in Florida. The results; almost two to one in favor of leaving the programs unchanged. Spokesman Dave Bruns says even the most rightwing voters dont want the programs cut to balance the budget.

People who agree with the Tea Party and have attended Tea Party events oppose cuts to social security for future beneficiaries and cuts to Medicare by landslide margins, said Bruns.

There have been talks of cuts to Social Security and Medicare among presidential and congressional candidates. Some want to raise the retirement age to 69, others have talked about privatizing Social Security. They are all ideas to balance out nations budget and pay off the 14.9 trillion dollar deficit.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medicaid Rx Going to Mail Order Company

June 10th, 2011 by flanews

Hundreds of small town pharmacists fear a change in the states Medicaid program could force some independently owned drug stores to close. The state wants all Medicaid recipients to order their drugs from a mail-order company. As Whitney Ray tells us, the change will mean layoffs or even worse for community drug stores.

In the quaint panhandle town of Monticello, hundreds of locals owe their loyalty and even more to Jackson Drug Store. A few decades ago, Betty Conner turned to the drug store for help when her kids were sick and she was broke.

“Back then people werent making much money, and I could come up here and get prescriptions, said Conner.

What the anchor the drug store provides to Monticello is in jeopardy. A reworking of the state’s Medicaid program could force those receiving the entitlement to get their drugs from a mail-order drug company.

With three out of every four customers at this drug store on Medicaid, owner Tracey Jackson says the change could force her store will close.

” We wont be able to stay in business. This town needs small businesses, said Jackson.

The change has statewide implications. There are 900 independent pharmacists in Florida. Friday several traveled to Tallahassee to speak out against the plan.

Right now the state is gathering input and listening to the public about how they think Medicaid should be reformed. Its all in an effort to save millions of taxpayer dollars.

2.9 million Floridians are on the Medicaid rolls… It costs an average of 7-thousand taxpayer dollars a year per patient.

A smaller number… Just 10 people work at the Jackson’s drug store. And if the state follows through with its plan they will be looking for new jobs. Changes to the prescription program are still in the works and arent expected to go into effect until July of 2012. Pharmacists focused on stopping the changes will probably have to enlist the help of sympathetic lawmakers.

Medicaid Reform Mettings

The way Medicaid is managed in Florida is changing. Today the first of several meetings was held to gather public input and answer questions about the Medicaid reform passed by the state legislature earlier this year. Those changes include forcing many of the states 2.9 million Medicaid recipients into managed care organizations, like HMOs. Roberta Bradford the Deputy Secretary of Medicaid for the state Agency for Health Care Administration says public input will improve the program.

Its to provide individuals with an opportunity for public input that could include suggestions, comments, recommendations, but our objective is to get feedback and use that feedback to improve it moving forward, said Bradford.

Opponents of the plan say taking the management responsibility away from the state will demises the quality of care. Supporters say it will save the state money. More public meetings will be held throughout the state next week. For a list go to our website.

List of meetings.


Posted in Health, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Medicaid Fraud Task Force

May 16th, 2011 by flanews

Elected officials, law enforcement officers and health care administrators are working together to cut down on Medicaid Fraud.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater chairs the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force. The force is reviewing new legislation to see how it will help the state fight fraudsters. Atwater says the group will also order a study to see just how much money the state loses to Medicaid fraud.

We are actually going to have over the next two months, a group of consultants, strong backgrounds in accounting and economic work, to quantify what is the fraud issue in Florida, said Atwater.

The state is spending 20 billion dollars a year on Medicaid programs, a rough estimate suggests 10 percent of that money every year is being stolen.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Disability Cuts Anger Medicaid Patients

April 6th, 2011 by flanews

Hundreds of disabled people are calling on Governor Rick Scott to restore money he cut last week from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. People with mental retardation, cerebral palsy and spina bifida were at the capitol today protesting the emergency cuts. As Whitney Ray tells us, they invited the governor, but he left the capitol before the rally began.

Yliana Eberts pulled her disabled daughter, Carmon, out of a group home after she discovered scrapes and bruises all over her body.

Yliana applied for a Medicaid waiver and now her daughter lives on her own. Medicaid pays for caregivers to watch Carmon, but last week Governor Rick Scott cut funds that pay for her care.

I dont have any options because I cannot care for her. That is why she is where she is, said Yliana.

The 15 percent cut is affecting thousands of Floridians with disabilities.

Wednesday, hundreds rallied at the state capitol to tell Scott to restore the funds. Some of them, like Philip Wojtas, who will lose his rides to therapy because of the cuts, needed help sharing their stories.

Interpreter: Do you want to live in an institution?
Philip: No
Interpreter: No, you dont want to live in an institution, you would rather live in your apartment, right?
Philip: Yes

The crowd invited the Governor to the rally to explain his cuts, but he was no where to be found. Scott had a meeting in Palm Beach and left minutes before the rally began, but Tuesday he told reporters spending at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities was out of control.

That agency has not lived within its budget as far as I can tell it never did and so everybody just kicked the can and never really held them accountable, said Scott.

Scott says the decisions he makes wont earn him a lot of friends. This crowd is proof positive the governors right. But the governor is making friends with the Tea Party and business groups, and even though a poll released today shows Scotts approval ratings low, political experts say if hes able to turn the economy around voters will change their tune.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medicaid: Benefit Cuts Vs. Savings

March 31st, 2011 by flanews

Three million Floridians receiving Medicaid benefits could be forced into managed care programs by state lawmakers. GOP leaders say privatizing Medicaid management would save the state a billion dollars a year. As Whitney Ray tells us, opponents of the plan say the savings will deprive children, seniors, and the disabled of quality care.

Since early January protesters have been begging lawmakers to leave Medicaid alone. They’ve carried signs and pleaded with lawmakers… But their cries have been muffled by the 3.8 billion dollar budget deficit.

House Republicans say they can save a billion dollars by putting Florida’s three million Medicaid recipients in HMOs or other managed care programs.

I think that the leadership has the right concept and they are going in the right direction, said Representative Jimmie Smith.

The governor’s onboard.

Weve got to make sure we spend the money better, said Rick Scott.

But Democrats say quality will suffer.

By privatizing it we are taking and putting the care of these patients into the hands of those private companies and we know those private companies priority is to make a profit, said Rep. Mia Jones.

With a GOP supermajority in the legislature and a Republican governor no one expects the bill to fail, but passing the reform legislation is just the first obstacle. The state will still have to get a waiver from the federal government to make the changes.

The state will have until December to get the waiver. Supports of the bill say if the feds won’t sign off, Florida will do something no state has ever done, start its own, scaled back Medicaid program.

Social service advocates say that would be, “Devastating, not only to the people it serves, remember the majority of people on Medicaid are children and behind that we have frail elderly people, said Karen Woodall.

If the state pulled out of the entitlement program, It would lose 13 billion federal matching dollars. The state House began debating the Medicaid Reform Bill at 3:00. Theyre expected to pass it before 5:00 EST. Next week the Senate is expected to take up the reform bill.

Posted in Health, Legislature, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

Medicaid Reform In the Works

February 16th, 2011 by flanews

Florida could become the first state to drop Medicaid coverage. The rising cost of the entitlement program costs Florida taxpayers 21 billion dollars a year. As Whitney Ray tells lawmakers are proposing changes to lower the cost and they plan to tell the feds take it or leave it.

Nearly three million Floridians rely on Medicaid for their health care at a cost of 21 billion dollars to Florida taxpayers. A little more than half comes from the feds, but in order to receive the matching dollars the state has to follow some rules.

Rules Republican lawmakers say cost the state too much money.

The current system is unsustainable. We have a situation where Washington has really commandeered our state budget, said Senator Joe Negron, the lawmakers in charge of the reform legislation.

Lawmakers will release a plan to reform Medicaid Thursday. It will force some recipients into managed care programs, eliminate some optional benefits and provide incentives to stop drinking and smoking.

We say in the bill that we expect them to be engaged in a smoking sensation program thats medically directed, said Senator Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville.

Advocates for low income families support some of the changes, but fear reform will mean a major reduction in benefits.

Im not sure how you get to the reduction if youre not cutting services, said Karen Woodall, the Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Looming are changes brought on by the new federal health care laws that will require Florida to allow another two million people onto its Medicaid rolls.

Lawmakers fear that would ruin the budget. If the feds don’t like their plan for reform, lawmakers are prepared to tell Washington they no longer want to offer the entitlement program. Only some of the details about the reform legislation are known right now. The entire plan will be unveiled tomorrow in Tallahassee. Its expected to cut Medicaid costs by a billion dollars next year.

Posted in Children, Health, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

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