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Guest Author

Jason Fischer: Our kids deserve hope

Over the past few days, many district superintendents and other defenders of the struggling status quo have attacked HB 7069, a bill focused on reforming and improving K-12 education. As a former Duval County School Board member, I am proud to have voted for this bill and urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign it into law.

The notion that this bill will gut public education or undermine public schools is hogwash. Instead, it provides the reform and disruption our K-12 education system desperately needs.

HB 7069 does several positive things: boosts K-12 funding to a record high $24 billion; rewards teachers and principals with bonuses; reduces standardized and computer testing; expands school choice access for special needs and virtual school students; implements mandatory recess for early grades; and provides the needed funding and incentives to attract nationally-proven charter school networks to Florida.

The last provision listed above, known as Schools of Hope,” sets aside money designated for high-performing charters, which can provide high-quality alternatives for students assigned to chronically failing traditional public schools. School districts who wish to convert a chronically failing traditional public school to a district-run charter are also eligible to access this funding should they choose to submit detailed turnaround plans.

My interest in “Schools of Hope” stems from Duval County, which has 10 failing traditional public schools who have earned failing grades for four or more years. One, in particular, has been failing for 10 years, and the parents whose students are assigned to that school have had little to no options to send their children elsewhere.

No parent or child should have to wait 10 years to be assigned to a high-quality school. Furthermore, taxpayers should not be asked to fund failure year in and out when we know there are proven charter networks from around the country who can do better. This is why certain established charter networks like Great Hearts or YES Prep should be given an opportunity to seek out Florida’s underserved communities and provide the education our own schools have failed to deliver.

The only problem is Florida’s charter school funding and accountability models are so restrictive, the nation’s best actors in the charter school realm face too many financial and structural barriers to coming here. “Schools of Hope” will help remedy these challenges.

The bill also rewards Florida’s 165,000+ hardworking teachers and principals with bonuses for the next three years, ranging between $800 and $6,000, based on eligibility, placing more dollars directly in the pockets of our educators.

At the request of many parents and educators, elementary school students will now receive 20 minutes of required daily recess.

The bill adds more flexibility in testing by rolling back some required state assessments, allowing for paper-and-pencil testing in grades 3-6, and giving state tests later in the school year, so students and teachers have more instructional time in the classroom.

Most importantly, the bill extends school choice to more students by ensuring Gardiner Scholarships for special needs students is fully funded, and it removes longtime barriers to accessing virtual school for homeschool and private school students.

What the bill does not do is cut funding to traditional public schools. Duval County will see an $8.3 million boost overall or $16 per pupil increase in funding.

When a child is assigned to a failing school, one day is too long to wait for a better option. If my child was stuck in one of the 10 failure factories in Duval County, I wouldn’t wait 10 years to see if it gets better.

It is a moral disgrace to insist some of our neighbors here in Duval County remain stuck in failing schools for generations because of personal or political vendettas against nontraditional public schools.

We have a moral obligation to give every child an education that equips them to succeed in life. No one should have to wait another day to access that education. We also know that more flexibility at the local level will lead to better student outcomes. That’s why this legislation is in the best interest of Florida’s students.


Jason Fischer is a father, businessman, former Duval County School Board member, and current State Representative for House District 16.

Gus Bilirakis: Lower drug costs through competition and innovation

In Florida and across the country, Americans continue to feel the pressure of rising prescription drug costs. Too often, bad actors in the marketplace take advantage of monopolies, skyrocketing the price of lifesaving medication simply because there is little to no competition.

We need to take thoughtful action, and avoid knee-jerk responses, to solve this issue affecting so many millions. Leveraging the power of the free market and incentivizing competition among drugmakers will drive costs down — not government mandates.

The success of Medicare Part D illustrates how competition in the prescription drug market helps make sure patients can afford the medication they need. Under the Part D program, seniors have a variety of coverage options and stable premium costs. No wonder it has a 90 percent satisfaction rate. Just as important, Medicare Part D has been significantly under budget from original CBO estimates, proving the government does not need to spend absurd amounts to address drug prices.

To be clear, there is no shortage of potential for increased competition in the marketplace. The United States is the undisputed global leader in biomedical innovation. Our companies produce 57 percent of the world’s new medicines and invest $70 billion a year to research and develop new therapies. If we want to spur the discovery of treatments and cures for deadly diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and more, we need to allow America’s innovators to do what they do best.

There is a role for Congress to play to keep drug prices in check, which is why I introduced the Lower Drug Costs Through Competition Act to increase competition specifically in the generic drug market. The bill would incentivize drugmakers to develop generic drugs when competition does not exist, or when there is a drug shortage. It would directly address situations like Turing Pharmaceuticals hiking the price of an HIV drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight, or when Mylan raised the cost of the EpiPen by more than 400 percent.

We can modernize the Food and Drug Administration and clear the backlog of generic drugs waiting for approval. We can reduce unnecessary regulations that hinder innovation and competition. We can remove legal and regulatory barriers so insurers and drug innovators can make more arrangements to “pay for performance.” And we can quickly implement the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, using real-world evidence and innovative clinical trial design to get new medicines to market faster.

In the end, we all want affordable prescription drugs and a health care system that spurs innovation. I believe the best approach to accomplish this goal is harnessing the power of the free market to bring costs down and get treatments to patients faster.


Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes all of Pasco County and parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He is a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Richard Corcoran: Federal government needs to act now; mosquito season is here

As we celebrated Mother’s Day with our families this weekend, I could not help but think of all the moms in the U.S., and all over the world, who have been affected by Zika in the last year.

As a father of six, I know that all children bring challenges.  But a child born with microcephaly will present his or her parents with unique struggles.

As we enter into the warm summer months, the threat of another outbreak is looming. That is why I have and will continue to urge the federal government to quickly authorize new strategies that can be used to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.

 I believe we should be taking a multi-faceted approach to put an end to the threat of Zika. This must include spraying programs, education awareness efforts, and the search for a vaccine. But more importantly, we must also look at new and science-based solutions that can control the growing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in Florida.

The mosquitoes that spread Zika are called Aedes aegypti. It is an invasive species in the U.S. and uniquely built to spread disease because it loves living in and around our homes and it loves to feed off humans rather than other mammals.

Besides Zika, it spreads a number of other diseases – yellow fever and dengue, just to name two. International travel and warm weather only increase the chance that these diseases are not only here to stay, but that we will continue to see more outbreaks. Because of the way it lives and breeds, the diseases the Aedes aegypti spreads are hard to control. It’s like a dry field of grass – just one spark can cause an out-of-control fire.

While ongoing research for a vaccine is imperative, we can’t only focus on a solution that will cost billions of dollars and that won’t be ready for years to come. I think we should be focused on the root of the problem – identifying new, innovative solutions to cut down on the population of Aedes aegypti. Some of those solutions already exist today.

One example of the technology I’ve advocated for is the Oxitec genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquito. When it is released into the wild, it doesn’t bite, it doesn’t transmit disease, but does transmit a self-limiting gene that makes its offspring die before reaching adulthood.

This technology is being used successfully in some countries already. If we had it available in the U.S., many expectant mothers might have one less thing to be anxious about.

Last year during a CDC briefing about the Zika outbreak in South Florida, former Director Thomas Frieden cautioned, “We also don’t yet have ideal ways to control the particular mosquitoes that spread Zika, and we need better methods and tools for mosquito control.” He added, “… aggressive mosquito control measures don’t seem to be working as well as we would have liked.”

What he means is that the insecticides that most cities use today to control mosquitoes do not work well for a variety of reasons, including the mosquitoes’ ability to be insecticide resistance. Even mosquito control officials have cautioned that insecticides are becoming less and less effective. This combined with the unseasonably warm winter we experienced has officials concerned

So as we enter into the summer months, I urge moms everywhere to take a few minutes to learn how to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases by going to the websites of the CDC or the Florida Department of Health.

Your health, and the health of your family, may depend on it.


Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Dennis Ross: Dispelling the myths — real facts about the AHCA

Beyond any measure, the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” has failed in its promises to the American people.

As it stands, Obamacare is in a death spiral and collapsing under its own weight of broken assurances, imperiling tens of thousands of Floridians with ever-increasing premiums and fewer and fewer choices for their medical needs. Here are the undisputed facts about Obamacare:

– It was sold to the American people based on broken promises.

– People did not get to keep their doctors if they liked them.

4.7 million Americans have been kicked off their health care plans.

– Nearly 20 million Americans remain uninsured today.

– It increased taxes on Americans by $1 trillion.

– Deductibles will average more than $6,000 this year, and premiums have risen by 25 percent.

– More than one-third of all U.S. counties have only one insurance provider.

– In Florida, premiums are expected to increase by 19 percent this year.

49 out of 67 Florida counties are estimated to have only one insurance provider this year.

300,000 Floridians had their plans canceled under Obamacare.

– The Congressional Budget Office incorrectly estimated 22 million people would flock to Obamacare.

– Insurance providers are fleeing the exchange left and right, with Aetna announcing it will completely leave the exchange by 2018.

– Leading Democrats, like former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, have admitted Obamacare was a mistake and has left Americans with less coverage.

Faced with these failures, doing nothing and watching more and more Americans be forced to pay higher premiums with unaffordable deductibles was not an option. The only responsible path forward was to repeal and replace the failures and broken promises of Obamacare.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that I voted for and passed in the House does just that:

– It establishes a health care system built upon free-market and consumer-driven principles that will revive competition, increasing quality, drive down costs and expand coverage.

– Cuts $1 trillion in burdensome Obamacare taxes.

– Congressional Members and staff are not exempt from the AHCA. The McSally Amendment made sure this legislation applies equally to everyone.

– Those with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage. I have a pre-existing condition with my congenital heart defect, and I understand how important it is to maintain coverage for others.

– Low-income Americans are not losing coverage and will still receive coverage under Medicaid.

– The AHCA modernizes and strengthens Medicaid with the biggest entitlement reform in a generation.

– It honors the enhanced state match that beneficiaries have been receiving.

– Restores $79 billion to hospitals who provide a high proportion of care to the most vulnerable patients, including certain Medicaid and Medicare recipients.

– Establishes the Patient and State Stability Fund that provides $130 billion to help states lower the cost of care for patients in need.

– Sets aside $100 billion for states to help low-income Americans access affordable health care.

– President Donald Trump has agreed to give Florida hospitals $1.5 billion to help treat the poor and uninsured.

No changes were made to the benefits Medicare provides in its current form, and the elderly will not lose or face more expensive coverage under the AHCA.

– Children up to 26 years old can stay on their parents’ plans.

– The AHCA substantially lowers premiums and eliminates the individual and employer mandates that are crushing small businesses and families.

– It provides tax credits and health savings accounts to help all Americans purchase affordable coverage, and ensures there is a seamless transition so no one has the rug pulled out from under them.

Defunds Planned Parenthood by blocking more than $500 million of taxpayer money, and maintains the Hyde Amendment. This measure is supported by the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List.

The AHCA is great a step in the right direction. After seven long years, we are finally putting patients first. We will continue working with the Trump Administration to further stabilize the health insurance market, increase choices, and lower costs for all Americans and families. We will fulfill our promises to those who sent us to Washington to help and protect them. I urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass this important legislation so we can provide relief to Americans across Florida and the entire nation.


U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Ann W. Madsen: Where are the champions for women?

Ann W. Madsen

As this Mother’s Day approaches, I find it particularly ironic to be advocating for the same support for women as our founder did four decades ago. Helen Gordon Davis opened this nonprofit to help women who needed extra support just to survive — serious counseling, intense skills development, assistance to the homeless and domestic violence populations, legal advice, financial guidance and the restored confidence to lead independent lives. She advocated for and was successful in persuading the state Legislature to create a Displaced Homemakers Program and fund it with a Trust Fund comprised of fees from marriage licenses and divorce applications.

Just this week, a group of legislators in a late Friday afternoon session broke our trust and voted to terminate the Displaced Homemakers Program. What a cavalier and cowardly act. No one thought to speak with any of the eight organizations that work tirelessly to help women in need to see if that recommendation made any sense. No one appeared to consider what would happen to the hundreds of the most vulnerable “moms,” many of them single mothers with young children. No one apparently imagined that their mom, wife, sister, daughter or grandmother would ever need the kind of support that so many have found through this program for 40 years. Yet, wherever I go across Tampa, women from all walks of life, tell me about how the help they received through the Displaced Homemakers program helped them to survive and change their lives.

As I reached out to legislators about this, no one offered to help. I guess they are too focused on other priorities. It made me wonder whatever happened to the champions for women in our State Legislature?  Are there no longer those valiant few that will stand up for what is right? The whole sad episode reminds me of the commercial where a politician was throwing granny off the cliff.

We are not political at The Centre for Women. Our views are politically diverse and we intentionally do not get embroiled in the political arena. We simply concentrate on our day-to-day work of helping women to succeed both personally and professionally. We do it with limited resources because we know our work changes lives for the better. The impact we make is felt every day across Tampa Bay.

We hope Governor Scott will veto this ill-conceived amendment because that is the right thing to do. How anyone can think it is OK to take monies in trust to help vulnerable people and conflate that with support for tourism simply boggles the mind. Perhaps they thought women would not notice or would not speak up. I don’t pretend to know how government works. I am not sure anyone does.

Thankfully, many voices are joining in to encourage continued support for Displaced Homemakers. We hope you will too.

Speak up and ask the Governor to leave the Displaced Homemakers Trust in place so that the most vulnerable among us will have the support they need.


Ann W. Madsen is Executive Director of The Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women, Inc. in Tampa.

Samantha Pollara: In defense of my big brother Ben Pollara

For the last five years, my big brother, Ben Pollara, has fought to bring medical marijuana treatment to suffering citizens in the state of Florida.

He acted as campaign manager for United for Care, which was the chief facilitator of Amendment 2’s passage November, and has since worked tirelessly to craft and pass fair legislation to enact it.

His goal was a feasible plan for implementation that not only best represented the interests of sick patients, but also protected and encouraged diversity in the burgeoning medical marijuana market.

Currently, only seven companies have been licensed and approved by the Florida Department of Health to grow and dispense marijuana. In most states where medical marijuana is legal, retail dispensaries are required to be licensed individually.

However, some states, including Florida, permit multiple dispensaries to operate under a single license. Most other states impose caps on licensees, limiting the number of retail operations to either 3 or 4 on a single license, depending on the state.

My brother’s position has always been that setting caps on the number of retail operations is essential to ensuring a free and diverse market for medical marijuana in Florida.

Without these caps, the seven current licensees would be given carte blanche to overrun the market in cartel style, using massive funding capabilities to effectively shut out smaller operations at the outset. That’s basically equivalent to allowing the Wal-Marts and Targets of medical marijuana first entry into the market, without giving Mom and Pop operations a chance to gain a toehold in the industry.

Ultimately, a system of total control via these seven “cartels” would be harmful not only to the market, but to the patients as well, through artificially high prices and product homogeneity as a result of this lack of competition.

In the process of debating the bill, HB 1397, this also became the sticking point for legislators. A version of the bill passed by the Florida Senate would have allocated five dispensaries to each licensee, and allowed each one more for every additional 75,000 patients.  The bill put forth by the House of Representatives, however, contained no such restrictions. The Legislature could not come to an agreement on these terms, and the bill died in the final hours of Friday’s session.

While my brother was adamant that caps were in the best interest of both the market and the patients, he was not so uncompromising that he would have deliberately risked the passage of this bill in the Florida Legislature.

He would have done anything in his power to pass any version of it, rather than see the responsibility fall to the Department of Health, which will disproportionately favor the current licensees.

What ultimately killed the bill was discord and failure at the highest levels of legislature. It’s worth noting that the team of lobbyists working on behalf of the seven currently licensed “cartels” was headed up by Michael Corcoran, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran’s brother. As a result of this connection, the House’s intractability on the issue of caps seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

To add insult to injury, despite having done everything he personally could to ensure the legislation’s success, my brother has faced a barrage of vicious personal attacks from his former partner and mentor, John Morgan, who places the blame entirely on Ben’s shoulders.

Mr. Morgan has repeatedly published harassing tweets directed at Ben, (one in which he even went so far as to refer to my brother as disloyal Fredo, from the Godfather, complete with the hashtag #FredoWillBeFishingSoon.) and has erroneously accused­­­ him of having an improper financial stake in attempting to pass a version of the bill that included caps.

No one has worked harder to ensure that sick patients in Florida have access to medical marijuana than my big brother, and no one knows that better than John Morgan.

Mr. Morgan ought to be ashamed of himself.


Samantha Pollara is a vice president of the Hillsborough Young Democrats.

Michael Bileca and Manny Diaz: Florida’s educational industrial complex earned need to be reformed

“It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men (and women)” — Frederick Douglass

It is incredible how many societal ills arise out of a failure to educate, in the fullest sense of the word, the children of our great state. We utter platitudes like, “we must do better,” as we watch a generation of children be stripped of their hope, their dignity, and their chance to be all that God intended them to be.

Sadly, this catastrophe is aided and abetted by an educational-industrial complex that is more dedicated to self-preservation then it is student achievement realization. 

How do we know this? Simple. Just try to change the status quo and watch. We are seeing it already in reaction to the Florida House’s revolutionary reform effort this year. Hyperbolic statements, threats, and massive disinformation efforts begin the minute you try to put kids before contracts. 

Despite the fact that there are 115 schools in Florida that failed for more than three years in a row. Despite the fact that just 22 percent of students in grade 8 can do math, and just 31 percent can read, at proficiency level or above. And despite the fact that it takes more than money to educate a child, we are constantly told that all will be well if we would just spend more. 

Where we come from, you’re entitled to what you earn. And the educational industrial complex in Florida has earned reform.

That is why we, along with several of my colleagues, introduced HB 7069 last week. Contrary to “news” reports, virtually everything within this large education reform was debated by the public and the Legislature for months.

We put futures first. We put kids ahead of bureaucrats. And we put money where it does the most good — in our classrooms and with our teachers. 

We begin by spending $241 million more this year than we did last year. This money does not even include $413 million in other provisions of the bill that require funding to go directly to students, parents, teachers, and principals.

Second, we allow what we are calling “hope operators” — i.e. charter school operators with a proven track record of success in low performing, low-income communities —  to come and provide students an alternative to their turnaround failing schools. We believe that hope and opportunity are transformational to the lives of kids who believe many have given up on them.  We also include grants to traditional public schools that submit a transformation plan to turn their school around.

Third, we spend $30 million to ensure every child with special needs receiving a Gardiner scholarship will continue to receive that scholarship and achieve their full potential in life.

Fourth, we recognize that the backbone of our brighter future are our best teachers.  The very best deserve the very best. To achieve this goal, we offer $233 million that is paid directly to teachers: $6,000 bonuses to the best and brightest teachers in our state as well as $1200 and up to $800 bonuses to all highly effective and effective teachers. We believe that your tax dollars should reward excellence not longevity.

We are changing the game with these and dozens of other reforms. Common-sense, child-centric, and results oriented changes are in store.

But as we stated earlier, when you try to fix an institution, those with much to lose make much the noise. In the case of HB 7069, the ones making the most noise are those most resistant to change.

You’ll hear from those suckling off the status quo that we actually spend less per pupil in many districts than we did last year.  What you won’t hear is that in all but one of those districts, the reduction in funding is due to fewer kids being enrolled in those schools. 

You’ll hear critics say that “schools of hope” are stealing from public schools. In truth, public education spending went up again this year. But most importantly, the “schools of hope” will be public schools.  Public schools in the same neighborhood as the kids they’re coming to save. 

 You’ll hear critics say this and so much more.

But we believe as Frederick Douglass believed that it’s easier to build strong children than fix broken adults. And we also know as we build strong children, we will need strong backbones to fix a broken system.

We, for one, won’t ever look at a child stuck in their failing school, with a fading glimmer of hope in her eye, and tell her I put fear before her future. Will you?


State Rep. Michael Bileca is chairman of the House Education Committee. State Rep. Manny Diaz is chairman of the House pre-K — 12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Dave Chauncey: Teach for America Jacksonville, not billboards, is better way to recruit teachers

Dave Chauncey

Today, there are approximately 200 teacher openings in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) for the 2016—2017 school year, which ends next month. That means students in 200 classrooms are being managed by a substitute.

The teacher shortage is not surprising, but the Duval County School Board’s consideration to cut Teach for America (TFA) is. If the school board gets its way when it meets Monday, there will be 325 openings soon.

In lieu of funding TFA in Jacksonville, this board is considering using the $400,000 originally earmarked for those 125 teachers to instead pay for marketing — yes, marketing.

More specifically, Chairwoman Paula Wright proposed using the money for DCPS billboards, which to be frank, is a bad idea. While Ms. Wright likes billboards, readers should know what TFA actually does.

TFA is a program that trains, supports, and places many of the nation’s top college students in the country’s lowest-performing Title I schools, where there is the greatest need for teachers.

It infuses racially and economically diverse educators into neighborhood schools and provides successful role models that look or came from households like the students they teach. In 2015, 64 percent of TFA Jacksonville corps members identified as people of color or from a low-income background.

Since TFA opened in Duval County in 2008, more than 30 TFA corps members have won Teacher of the Year in their school, including two finalists for Duval County’s Teacher of the Year.

Not only does TFA help fill critical teaching positions, but it also seeks out schools with the greatest shortages in the most vital subject areas: math, science and language arts. TFA corps members were a considerable share — 14 percent — of new math hires in Duval this year.

In a climate of teacher shortage crises, the decision to cut TFA makes no sense, especially with only three months until teachers report for the 2017-2018 school year. This consideration reeks of politics from an ineffectual school board that recently drove out its superintendent with pettiness.

This is not about students or stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This is about attempting to take out a program that many of the entrenched status quo interests have resented since the day it began in Duval County.

TFA has its shortcomings like any organization and it is not a silver bullet for education reform, but it has a proven track record of creating tangible impacts on student achievement in classrooms across Florida and the nation.

In a state where the average public school teacher comes and goes in 3.5 years, 70 percent of 2014 TFA Jacksonville corps members continue teaching beyond their two-year commitment and remain in the classroom today.

Many former corps members also become school administrators or choose to make Jacksonville their permanent home, no matter their profession, which is a boon for attracting well-educated, high skilled workers and their families to Jacksonville.

Without TFA in Jacksonville, the teacher shortage problems in Duval will just worsen. The number of vacancies could more than double to 400 vacancies or more.

That’s why it’s extremely misguided to think $400,000 worth of billboards and advertising will be the key to filling those 200 vacant teaching positions. Other strategies are needed to fill these roles.

Moving forward, TFA and its impact in Jacksonville should be regularly evaluated with renewed public attention and debate. For right now, the 125 TFA corps members and 95 TFA alumni teaching in Duval County, along with the many other talented administrators and education-focused professionals who are borne from TFA, are sorely and desperately needed in this city.

Anyone who cares for our most vulnerable students should implore their board member to make the right decision. Pettiness and politics from our school board should not get in the way of children’s best interests.


Dave Chauncey is an education, labor and employment attorney in Jacksonville. He was a 2010 TFA Corps Member in Jacksonville. You can tweet him @DaveChauncey.

Jamey Richardson: Proposed nursing home reimbursement plan will make Florida senior care even better

As the president of a multifacility company with arguably the highest quality rating in the State of Florida, I feel compelled to respond to the misguided comments about the proposed Prospective Payment System (PPS).

The current proposal, for the first time in Florida Medicaid history, will create a true incentive for long-term care centers to provide higher quality care to our residents.

The current system of reimbursement for nursing homes provides no incentive for operators to deliver higher quality care, no incentive to be efficient and no incentive to invest capital to upgrade centers. In addition, at a time when our country is trying to simplify government programs, the current system is overly complicated and overly burdensome on state agencies.

The PPS proposal for nursing home reimbursement is both complicated and challenging, and critics certainly don’t help the public understand it when they introduce false information to scare the Legislature away. Many of the opponents of PPS are content with the current system because they benefit from the inefficiencies of the system and have learned how to “game” the program. The bottom line is that this PPS plan will, for the first time ever, link the payment system to quality outcomes. How could anyone oppose paying for quality?

While some skilled nursing centers will receive less in reimbursements under the proposal, the proposed plan includes a three-year transition period to soften the impact and allow everyone to adapt to the modern approach. Some of the highest-quality facilities that will lose money, including many of ours, support the PPS approach because it is in the best interest of the residents in our care and the future of long-term care. Instead of being surprised by wild swings in reimbursement, PPS will provide stability, which results in our ability to budget properly and provide consistent care to our residents and fair wages to our employees.

New funds will be directed to quality of care, while 6 percent of rates that had previously gone to fund other costs would now be used for quality improvements. The critics scoff that using the money to enlarge resident rooms or improve therapy equipment isn’t the same as putting it into quality care. This ignores the reality that quality of life and quality of care go hand in hand, especially for the elderly residents spending their later years with us. Are there any family members who wouldn’t want a nicer room for their loved one or better treatment rooms with modern equipment?

A handful of critics have publicly decried the PPS plan as being designed to benefit one large nursing home chain. Perhaps one chain would receive significant additional funds, but that may be because its 83 centers and 10,000+ employees care for more than 9,000 residents, all of whom would presumably benefit from the increased funding. This program is bigger than one building or one chain — this program creates a system that will benefit the elderly population of Florida for generations to come.

This proposal has not been rushed. It has been vetted by outside consultants, industry experts, local and national experts, and AHCA. It is the result of years of work and collaboration, and is supported by the overwhelming majority of nursing home operators (both not-for-profit and for-profit) as well as tens of thousands of employees throughout Florida. The PPS system under consideration will improve the quality of care throughout the system and improve the lives of thousands of Florida residents.

Florida is a national model in elder care, and the PPS plan would make us even better.


Jamey Richardson is president at Gulf Coast Health Care.

Jason Pye, Sal Nuzzo: Mandatory minimum reform needed in overdose epidemic

Facing yet another drug overdose epidemic, the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to move the needle in the right policy direction — finally.

As members of the Florida House and Senate are poised to pass new criminal violations, this time for trafficking in fentanyl and synthetic drugs, the heat is on to include policies that have failed Florida – every single time they’ve been tried.

Once again, the usual suspects play Lucy to the legislature’s Charlie Brown, assuring members that this time is different, that this time mandatory minimums will work.

But we know how this ends, and the legislature will have no excuse when it lands flat on its back.

At 50 times stronger than heroin, fentanyl is terrifying. Some say the danger alone justifies mandatory minimums, claiming such sentences will deter drug trafficking. What they don’t do is offer a shred of evidence for that claim. Indeed, all available evidence shows the opposite: not only will mandatory minimums fail, they could make the problem worse.

Current law already provides harsh mandatory sentences for trafficking in heroin laced with fentanyl. According to the DEA, most fentanyl is added to heroin in Mexico before it enters the U.S. If so, trafficking in this form of heroin would already be subject to mandatory minimums in Florida.

This should trouble anyone who believes mandatory minimums will deter fentanyl trafficking. If that’s true, what are they waiting on?

The truth is mandatory minimums don’t reduce drug trafficking. After Florida adopted mandatory minimums for opioid trafficking in 1999, arrests for trafficking in those drugs increased sharply. So did prison admissions: between FY 2000-01 and FY 2010-11, prison admissions for low-level opioid trafficking increased fourteenfold, a fact consistent with a Florida Senate report that found no evidence of a general deterrent effect from Florida’s mandatory minimum drug laws.

Mandatory minimums have also failed to reduce drug abuse.

In the decade after Florida adopted mandatory minimums for trafficking in cocaine and heroin, Florida’s cocaine-related death rate increased 68 percent. It remained higher in 2015 than in 1999. Heroin-related deaths are at record levels; the 2015 heroin-related death rate was nearly twice the 1999 rate. Oxycodone deaths increased, too, including a 264 percent increase between 2003 and 2009.

In fact, since adopting mandatory minimums to reduce overdose deaths, Florida’s overall drug-induced death rate has increased nearly 150 percent.

If this is success, what would failure look like?

Florida is also not using mandatory minimums to lock up only major drug traffickers, as some suggest. A 2012 report by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) studied inmates serving mandatory sentences for opioid trafficking.

OPPAGA found 74 percent of these inmates had never been to prison previously. Half had either never been on probation or had been on probation solely for drug possession, and 84 percent had no current or past violent offenses. The report concluded the majority of such inmates “had minimal prior criminal involvement and substance abuse problems” and were at “low risk for recidivism.”

Incarcerating thousands of low-level addicts who don’t pose a risk to public safety is expensive.

Florida spends more than $100 million annually incarcerating drug offenders serving mandatory minimums. That money could go to expanding drug courts, increasing access to drug treatment, or giving first responders naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.

Continuing to waste tax dollars on ineffective, tough-sounding “solutions” instead of investing in what works will make Florida’s opioid problem worse.

Because mandatory minimums have failed to achieve their intended purposes, and because they created massive negative unintended consequences, more than a dozen conservative groups – including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Justice Fellowship, Right on Crime, The James Madison Institute, and Florida TaxWatch – recently encouraged the legislature to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. Yet some in the legislature want more of the same – perhaps failure is addictive, too.

One such reform – a practical, reasonable and moderate one – would give judges, under compelling circumstances, a degree of flexibility to sentence drug offenders appropriately.

For instance, under legislation currently being considered, a person who buys a bottle of counterfeit fentanyl pills would face a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. A “safety valve” would allow judges to determine whether that person is indeed a trafficker for whom prison is appropriate, or an addict who needs treatment, drug court, or another sanction to break the cycle of drug use and incarceration. Several states, including Georgia and Mississippi, already have safety valves for drug trafficking, and they’ve worked to reduce crime and unnecessary incarceration.

The opioid epidemic is too important to allow politically motivated misinformation to guide Florida’s policy response. Public policy should be guided by evidence, experience and advice from actual experts.

A robust commitment to those principles, and not political convenience, might actually help fix Florida’s drug problem.


Jason Pye is director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs for FreedomWorks; Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute.

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