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With a swearing-in ceremony scheduled Tuesday, newly elected Sen. Annette Taddeo will serve on five Senate panels, including committees that play key roles in insurance and environmental issues.
Taddeo won a closely watched special election Sept. 26 to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April from the Senate District 40 seat.
Senate President Joe Negron has appointed Taddeo to serve on the Banking and Insurance Committee; the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee; the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee; the Transportation Committee; and the General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, according to the Senate website.
Also this week, Taddeo opened a campaign account as a first step in running for a full term in 2018, according to the state Division of Elections website.
State Sen. Tom Lee‘s office announced he had again filed legislation to add financial protections for residents of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).
The Thonotosassa Republican, a former Senate president, filed the 70-page bill (SB 438) on Thursday; he filed similar legislation last session.
“Part independent living, part assisted living and part skilled nursing home, CCRCs offer a tiered approach to the aging process, accommodating residents’ changing needs,” according to AARP.
“In the last five years, three CCRCs have filed for bankruptcy in our state, leaving some of our most vulnerable citizens with a lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen in the final stages of their lives,” Lee said in a statement.
“While the majority of these facilities are operating in good faith, these incidents have highlighted the need to reexamine our laws to ensure we’re adequately protecting residents and the assets they’ve worked so hard to accumulate.”
He said his legislation would give the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) “the necessary authority to intervene earlier to prevent a CCRC’s financial challenge from becoming a crisis.”
“A CCRC in my community allowed unqualified and unapproved individuals to take over, bleed the facility of all liquidity, and use bankruptcy as a shield to evade regulatory action,” Lee said.
Among other things, the bill “creates a new early warning intervention system to allow the OIR and CCRCs to work together to resolve any potential issues.”
There are now 71 licensed CCRCs in Florida serving approximately 30,000 residents, according to Lee’s office.
Republican Ashley Moody added a pair of endorsements for her Attorney General campaign Thursday from Panhandle Reps. Clay Ingram and Jay Trumbull.
Moody is a former prosecutor and circuit court judge who stepped down from the bench earlier this year to run for the state’s attorney general post, which is opening up due to Pam Bondi hitting term limits in 2018.
“Northwest Florida has a long history of accomplished leaders in the Florida Legislature and that legacy continues on in the conservative leadership of Representative Ingram and Representative Trumbull,” Moody said. “They’ve led on tough issues and been true advocates for their districts. To have their support means so much to our campaign, and to me personally.”
The endorsements from Ingram and Trumbull add to a long list of GOP backers Moody has amassed since entering the race at the beginning of June, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, all five Republicans on the Hillsborough County Commission and the Sheriffs of Brevard, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Still, the biggest endorsement to date came from Bondi herself.
The second-term attorney general threw her weight behind Moody, a longtime friend, before the ink had a chance to dry on the filing paperwork.
“I’ve known her most of her life,” Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times in June. “I don’t think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida. I whole-heartedly support Ashley and I’m proud of her for wanting to sacrifice so much for our state.”
Those early shows of support came despite – or perhaps because of – Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant’s candidacy.
He and Moody are currently the only two Republicans running to take over for Bondi, and though Fant got off to a strong start with $150,000 raised in his first two months, his numbers flatlined after Moody entered the picture.
He filed a month ahead of Moody and through August had raised almost $180,000 with about $155,000 in the bank. Moody, through the same date, had racked up $756,000 for her campaign and had about $733,000 on hand.
A chunk of that money was even snagged from a fundraiser in Fant’s home turf.
The fifth-generation Floridian and three-time University of Florida alumna also has a political committee, “Friends of Ashley Moody,” which showed $137,500 raised in 10 weeks on its August report.
Municipal electric customers in the path of Tropical Storm Nate should rest easy: Your utility is “ready.”
“While there is still much uncertainty surrounding Nate’s ultimate strength and path, Florida’s municipal electric utilities are watching it closely,” said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association.
They “are prepared to bring in power restoration resources should this storm system become a threat to Florida’s Panhandle and the public power communities located there,” she added.
“We have been in communication with our fellow public power utilities in other states that are also in the current path of Tropical Storm Nate. Our crews are ready to go to other Gulf coast states to assist them if needed and if Florida is not impacted.
“We continue to be in close communication with Gov. Rick Scott and thank him for being helpful and proactive as we face yet another tropical storm system.”
Crisis, what crisis?
Just a year after dire predictions that the state’s economy was in peril due to rising insurance costs, Florida businesses could see an average 9.3 percent reduction in workers’ compensation premiums in the coming year under a rate filing Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier will consider later this month.
If approved, manufacturing businesses could see a 10.3 percent reduction in their workers’ compensation rates, and rates for office and clerical businesses could decrease by 11.3 percent.
While it may be good news for those who pay the premiums, the proposed reduction filed by the National Council on Compensation Insurance presents a hurdle for business lobbyists and special interests who have warned lawmakers for more than a year that a pair of 2016 Florida Supreme Court rulings would drive workers’ compensation rates so high that employers would be forced to slash jobs.
Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, acknowledged that after traveling the state in the summer of 2016 discussing the issue and spending the majority of the 2017 session unsuccessfully pushing a workers’ compensation bill, it’s not a priority this year.
Enthusiasm to tackle the complicated issue has waned since the proposed 9.3 percent reduction was filed in August, he said.
“We still believe the rates are going to go up, but when rates are going down, we don’t have wind in our sails,” Herrle said.
House Commerce Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, worries about attorney involvement in the workers’ compensation insurance system and has asked members of his committee to receive an update during a meeting next week in Tallahassee.
Nevertheless, Boyd, an insurance agent, acknowledged that there isn’t a need for legislative action if Altmaier approves lower workers’ compensation rates for the coming year.
“I’m not sure doing anything this year would be appropriate or prudent,” Boyd said.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system meant to protect workers and employers. It is supposed to provide workers who are injured on the job access to medical benefits they need to be made whole. Those who are injured for at least eight days also are entitled to indemnity benefits, or lost wages. In exchange for providing those benefits, employers generally cannot be sued in court for causing injuries.
While the system is supposed to be self-executing, injured workers hire attorneys when there are disputes over the amounts of benefits they should receive.
Preliminary data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) shows that Florida businesses paid nearly $3.8 billion in workers’ compensation premiums in 2016, up from about $2.8 billion in 2012. The costs for the mandatory coverage are the 33rd highest in the nation.
In 2003, with Florida facing some of the highest premiums in the country, the Legislature passed a sweeping rewrite of the workers’ compensation system that, among other things, tied the recovery of plaintiff attorneys’ fees to percentages of the amount of recovered benefits. Workers’ compensation judges were precluded from awarding additional hourly fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
In a 2016 ruling known as Castellanos v Next Door Company, the Florida Supreme Court said the strict fee caps violated injured workers’ due process rights and authorized judges to award fees outside the fee schedule if adhering to it yielded unreasonable results.
Following the ruling NCCI, which files workers compensation rates for all insurance carriers in the state, requested a 19.6 percent increase in rates, effective Oct. 1, 2016. The majority of the hike, NCCI said, was attributable to the Castellanos ruling.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation rejected the rate request and, instead, agreed to approve a 14.5 percent increase effective Dec. 1, 2016.
That increase triggered repeated predictions by business groups that the state’s economic recovery would stall. They pleaded for the Legislature to act, but lawmakers ended the 2017 session without reaching a compromise on a workers’ compensation bill.
Now, heading into an election year with the expected rate decrease and with hurricane recovery demanding attention from the Legislature, it is unlikely lawmakers will want to tackle the complicated workers’ compensation issue.
Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said a need still exists. Even if Altmaier agrees to NCCI’s proposed rate reduction, Ousley said, workers’ compensation rates will still have increased over the last two years and, she said, would be some of the highest rates paid by employers across the Southeast.
“While regulators have proposed somewhat of a reduction, the net effect is still an increase in rates leading to higher bills for job creators and a lack of predictability,” Ousley said.
Florida Workers’ Advocates, an association that represents plaintiffs’ attorneys and injured workers, is at odds with business interests such as the Florida Chamber.
But Florida Workers’ Advocates President Mark Touby, a plaintiffs’ attorney, agreed with Ousley that workers’ compensation rates are not predictable for employers. He put the blame on NCCI, which is the rating organization for the state and files proposed rates on behalf of all workers’ compensation insurance carriers. The rates are ultimately approved and set by the insurance commissioner after a public meeting.
While business groups in 2017 pushed for attorney-fee caps, Florida Workers’ Advocates asked the Legislature to consider changing the ratemaking process after a Leon County circuit judge ruled that NCCI violated the state’s “Sunshine Law” when it came to public records and public meetings. An appellate court later reversed the decision.
“The fact that rates are going down is artificial,” Touby said, adding that until the public has access to NCCI’s information, the rates, and whether they increase or decrease, won’t be fully understood.
The group also lobbied the Legislature last year to reconsider the benefits afforded to injured workers.
But Touby said he doesn’t expect to be pushing those changes this year.
“This didn’t get less important,” said Touby, who represented Marvin Castellanos, the named plaintiff in the 2016 Supreme Court ruling. “It’s just not that burning issue right now because other things have popped up that need attention.”
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
The Florida Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will take up hurricane effects and recovery efforts across the business community in Florida at its first meeting of the 2018 session, Chairman Bill Montford announced Wednesday.
That is assuming the committee’s hearing is not postponed because of a hurricane. Very early projections of Tropical Depression 16 forming off the coast of Central America on Wednesday afternoon have it becoming Hurricane Nate and hitting Florida — right near Tallahassee — Sunday.
Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, set the discussion with Hurricane Irma in mind, taking place roughly a month after that storm hit Florida.
“Hurricane Irma was a catastrophic storm, the likes of which Florida has never seen,” Montford stated in a news release issued by the Senate Democrats’ office. “We continue to face the long and complicated process of recovery statewide, from our businesses and tourist industry, the school systems, to agriculture and infrastructure, there was not an entity left untouched.”
“It is important that we focus on fully understanding the impacts so that the Legislature can stand with local governments, businesses and citizens on the road to recovery,” he continued. “I have invited several representatives from the business community, as well as the governmental entities that focus on commerce and economic development to our first meeting. I also welcome all of my Senate colleagues to attend and participate in the panel discussion if they have questions specific to their districts. Vice Chair [George] Gainer [a Panama City Republican] and I are committed to ensuring that Hurricane Irma will not stunt economic development in Florida.”
The panel Montford assembled for Monday’s hearing will consist of representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida United Businesses Association, CareerSource Florida, Visit Florida, Florida Small Business Development Center Network, and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. Monday.
A measure to overhaul community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.
Rep. Jake Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is sponsoring the bill (HB 17).
Lawmakers designed the programs to combat blight and slums and build affordable housing, WFSU explained. Critics argue more regulations are needed to ensure that happens.
Under the bill, CRAs would have to conduct ethics training, open competitive bids and file annual performance reports. Agencies would have to post project lists and funding plans, as well as changes in property values and vacancy rates.
The bill would also phase out active CRAs by September 2038 or earlier. And the Legislature would have to approve any new CRAs, instead of local governments.
Most recently, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office sent subpoenas to the city of Tallahassee and the City/County Community Redevelopment Agency over deals that body has made, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. “The subjects of the subpoenas included prominent business people and financial documents and communication with city officials,” it said.
Material also provided by LobbyTools.
Updated Thursday — Sen. Tom Lee filed a companion measure in the Senate (SB 432).
One of the two Democrats running for Gainesville-based Senate District 8 showed $73,000 raised in her inaugural campaign finance report, putting her within striking distance of incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry’s 10-month total.
Kayser Enneking, MD, filed for SD 8 on Sept. 1 after mulling a run for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which is much more favorable to GOP candidates than SD 8.
“I’m honored by the outpouring of support since announcing my candidacy less than a month ago. Voters are ready for a leader who understands the importance of access to health care and public education. We need thoughtful solutions in Tallahassee. The legislature should be working on problems faced by their constituents not the issues of special interests. Our campaign is about giving a voice to every family and making Tallahassee finally work for us,” Enneking said.
Enneking’s first report is not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, but her campaign touted the $72,900 haul, as well as Enneking’s Gainesville roots in a Wednesday email.
The press release describes Enneking, a physician at UF Health, as a lifelong local and “a product of Gainesville public schools” who decided to launch her first campaign for elected office “because she is concerned with the direction of our current legislators.”
Among her gripes with Perry, who spent six years in the House and was elected to the Senate last year, is his no-vote on Medicaid expansion.
“This important program funds care for pregnant women and children. It supports rural hospitals and nursing homes. It drives job creation in Senate District 8. It is a travesty that Florida missed out on 5.9 billion dollars in funding in 2016 by not expanding Medicaid.”
The press release also made sure to poke at Perry’s fundraising numbers by pointing out Enneking’s haul bests his efforts over the last six months combined.
Perry hasn’t put out his September numbers yet, but through the end of August he had raised about $108,000 since filing for re-election in December, and much of that money came from early in the year. He has about $100,000 of that money on hand.
Perry will also have to pause his fundraising efforts during the 2018 Legislative Session, which will give his challengers another 60 days to catch up.
SD 8 was drawn to be more favorable to Democratic candidates as part of the court-ordered rebalancing of the districts last year.
Despite containing nearly 30,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, Perry won by 4 points against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith in one of the more hotly contested – and expensive – races in 2016.
President Donald Trump was also able to take the district, though his win came by only fractions of a point.
Enneking does face a primary opponent in Olysha Magruder, though she has not been able to jump start her fundraising efforts since filing in June. Through the end of August Magruder had raised about $2,900 and had most of that money on hand.
To increase the use of telehealth in Florida, a panel is recommending that insurance companies be required to reimburse health care providers for telehealth services and that the Legislature authorize participation in interstate “compacts” that make it easier for doctors and other providers to be licensed in a variety of states.
The Telehealth Advisory Council held a two-hour-plus teleconference Tuesday, with members reviewing a draft copy of a 32-page report that will be sent to the governor and Legislature later this month.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior, the chairman of the advisory council, said a copy of the report would be posted publicly and that another meeting will held before the panel votes on the final version.
“I really appreciate all the work that has gone into this. I really think it’s coming together nicely,” Senior told members of the council.
Telehealth, at least in part, involves using the internet and other technology to provide services to patients remotely. The Legislature for years grappled with telehealth and how it should best be used and regulated. In 2016, lawmakers passed a bill creating the advisory council and directed it to survey the current level of telehealth participation in the state, identify obstacles and make recommendations on how those obstacles can be eliminated.
Recommendations in the report run the gamut, from making clear that a practitioner/patient relationship can be established through telehealth to providing a definition for telehealth.
Perhaps the most controversial recommendation, though, is that the Legislature require insurance companies to reimburse health care providers for telehealth services as though the care were provided face-to-face.
Moreover, the draft report also recommends that insurance companies cover services provided via telehealth if the same services are covered for in-person visits.
The advisory board recommendation applies to commercial insurance coverage only. The report recommends, however, that the state support changes being considered by Congress that would make Medicare coverage of telehealth services less restrictive.
With regard to Medicaid, the advisory council is recommending that the state amend its Medicaid rules and allow reimbursement to providers for more telehealth services. Currently, Medicaid rules allow for reimbursement of live video conferencing only.
Advisory council member and Leon County EMS provider Kim Landry told The News Service of Florida Monday that the recommended mandates on insurance companies should go a long way to increasing access to telehealth services.
“Reimbursement has been an issue,” he said noting that he doesn’t expect every provider to gravitate toward telehealth but that the promise of reimbursement will help sway some physicians.
As of September, 34 states and the District of Columbia had established health-insurance parity laws to address gaps in coverage for telehealth services, according to the draft report. But only three of the states with telehealth parity laws explicitly mandate that the reimbursement for telehealth services be the same as for in-person care.
The advisory council worked with the Office of Insurance Regulation, the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration in polling insurance companies, facilities and providers about telehealth.
The findings showed that only 6 percent of practitioners in Florida reported using telehealth, which was below the national average of 16 percent.
Those who did offer telehealth services were recent converts, with 55 percent reporting doing so for the first time in the last year.
The poll also showed hospitals in Florida lagged behind their peers nationally in the use of telehealth. While 45 percent of hospitals responding to the Florida survey reported using telehealth, that was less than the 52 percent of hospitals (with another 10 percent in the process) in a 2013 national poll.
Results of the Florida survey showed that for health care practitioners, the top barriers for telehealth were financial. Practitioners were concerned about the required investments, adequate reimbursement for services and a financial return.
In addition to tackling reimbursement, the advisory council also weighed in on licensure requirements, recommending that “health care practitioners be licensed in Florida prior to being allowed to provide care to a patient in Florida.”
To make the licensure process easier, the council is recommending that the Legislature authorize Florida to participate in multi-state practitioner licensure compacts so long as the eligibility requirements for licensure equal or exceed the state’s existing requirements.
The advisory council also is recommending that, similar to the boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine, the various health care regulatory boards and councils be given specific authority to develop rules necessary to implement telehealth.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.