Medicaid Archives - Page 7 of 35 - Florida Politics

Martin Dyckman: Cruzing to a police state?

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith memorably said that politics “consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

But what if the only choice is between the disastrous and the disastrous?

That’s the predicament of establishment Republican politicians who think John Kasich, the only decent human being who remains in their presidential primaries, is either too liberal (i.e., he accepted the Medicaid money) or too unlikely to limp to the finish line at the Cleveland convention.

Chris Christie, ever the opportunist, forgot every truth he had told about Donald Trump’s spectacular lack of qualifications and endorsed him. You could say he sold his soul for a Cabinet post, but that would raise the question of whether he had one to sell.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, admitting out of one side of his face that Kasich would make the better president, out of the other endorsed Ted Cruz.

That is the same Lindsey Graham who, while supporting Jeb Bush, said that if “you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Mitt Romney came out for Cruz too. He all but begged Kasich to quit the race.

Then Bush himself, whose noblest characteristic was that he’s no bigot, endorsed Cruz, who’s just as dangerous a bigot as Trump. Bush called him “a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests.”

Only a few hours later, that “principled conservative” called for a Castro-style police presence in American Muslim neighborhoods.

Turkey has suffered more bombings recently than any other of our NATO allies. Just this month, at least 41 people died in blasts at Ankara and Istanbul. But Cruz said nothing about that outbreak of terror. Perhaps it was because most of the victims were Muslims.

Then came the terror in Brussels.

That’s when he called for American police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

What would be next? Gated ghettoes? Special ID cards? Yellow crescents to be sewn on their clothing?

President Barack Obama, referring to his just-completed visit to Cuba, had the perfect putdown for Cruz.

“I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free,” the President said.

Trump, meanwhile, used the Brussels tragedy as yet another opportunity to indulge his sick fascination with torture. His Sadean fixation with hurting people is becoming a subject more for psychiatry than political science.

Anyone who talks like either Cruz or Trump is unfit to be president. Any politician who endorses either of them is clueless as to what a “principled conservative” really is, and can hardly be considered one himself.

There’s one principle, though, that Bush and Cruz apparently share. It’s to cut taxes for the rich and raise them on the poor. Citizens for Tax Justice calculated that Cruz’s scheme, more extreme even than Bush’s, would cost $13.9 trillion over 10 years either as added debt or a demolished government. It also would give the top 1 per cent an average tax cut of $435,000 a year.

Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to be endearing Cruz to the billionaire Koch brothers and the other big-money Republican establishment campaign contributors.

Perhaps it’s because they don’t think even Cruz can stop Trump. And Trump is their worst nightmare — someone they doubt that they could control.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Koch network is considering investing most of its $900 million campaign budget on protecting what it can control — its Republican allies in the Congress.

“A key element of the strategy,” the newspaper said, “will be a springtime wave of television ads that slam Democratic contenders and tout Republican incumbents as attuned to hometown concerns. Strategists hope the efforts will help inoculate congressional candidates against association with Trump’s incendiary remarks.”

For example, the article said, one super-PAC in the Koch network is spending $1 million to prop up New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, while another is attacking Ohio’s former Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, who’s running against Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

It means they figure Trump for a general election loser who would cost them the Senate and many seats in the House.

It’s a cynical strategy that makes perfect sense. It should have made sense to Graham and Bush too.

In that scenario, continued Republican control of one or both houses would frustrate anything that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would want to do — such as appointing any moderate to liberal Supreme Court justice.

Just as they have frustrated nearly everything Obama has wanted to do.

***

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Diane Roberts: Florida GOP voters don’t want to think, they just want to believe

So the other jackboot has dropped: Rick Scott endorsed his Soul Brother but only after that big Florida Primary win.

Scott signaled his man-crush back in January, writing breathlessly for USA TODAY that Herr Drumpf reminds him of, well, him: rich, an “outsider,” a business hombre incensed over “endless and tedious regulation and taxation.”

You know, crap like the Clean Water Act. And the Voting Rights Act.

Still, Scott couldn’t quite bring himself to come out all the way for the eccentrically coiffed braggart until he saw which way Florida Republicans would blow. After all, they’re the people he needs to propel him to the United States Senate in 2018.

He’s betting (and the evidence is pretty compelling, see 2010 and 2014) that a large hunk of Florida voters no longer care about qualifications or competence. They just want to elect somebody who will throw epic tantrums on their behalf. Somebody who’ll show those uppity feminists and gays and Black Lives Matter kids who’s boss. Somebody who’ll make America white male again.

They don’t want problem-solvers. They want a megaphone.

Meanwhile, the denizens of Punditland are trying to get their heads around what happened to Florida’s once-golden homeboys.

Jeb was the Bush to beat, the Smart One, the guy who’d raised so much money nobody could touch him. Marco Rubio was young, Latino, telegenic and energetic: the new Face of the 21st century GOP.

Ted Cruz? Everybody hates him, especially his fellow senators. You can’t run a serious presidential campaign with no friends. John Kasich? One of those moderate Republicans. He accepted Obamacare in Ohio. He’ll be gone by Iowa.

And as for Trump: are you kidding? The guy’s an idiot. He’s going nowhere.

Yeah.

Got it wrong, didn’t we?

Perhaps not entirely: Cruz is despised by most rational people. Trump is indeed an idiot — the way Mussolini was an idiot. Mean, cunning and narcissistic.

But Rubio wasn’t such a fresh face, after all. His political “philosophy” was opportunism with a spritz of Reagan-lite: path to citizenship for undocumented aliens? Sure — until it upsets the base.

And Bush, well, even Republicans persisting in a perverse fondness for George W. didn’t warm to his “little brother” Jeb. Where George W. won people over by being just as ignorant and incurious — but friendly — as they were, Jeb spouted passionless policy, specifics and other egghead-ish stuff.

The truth is that Bush and Rubio were both lackluster candidates, products of Florida’s intellectually bankrupt GOP, a party which was, 35 years ago, strangely progressive on the environment and on social issues, but which now exists — much like the old Pork Chop Democrats — merely to perpetuate their own power.

Bush beat two weak Democrats for governor in 1998 and 2002, kept his nerve in the 2000 presidential vote recount, and tried to dismantle public education in Florida. Somehow that made him look like presidential material — at least to old-line party faithful.

Rubio got himself a couple of fat jobs out of law school, including a teaching gig at FIU funded by private donors, before he hit the Florida House and became Speaker at age 35.

He was elected to the US Senate in 2010, beating former Gov. Charlie Crist. That seemed like a mighty coup. But remember that 2010 was the year the Tea Party grabbed their pitchforks and tricorn hats: that guy in the White House was a Kenyan Muslim socialist atheist revolutionary who was going to get his dusky government hands on their doctors!

And 2010 was also the year Florida elected as governor a guy whose company drew the largest fine in history for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Rick Scott still isn’t in jail.

The signs were there. Bush and Rubio should have noticed that the re-election of Scott indicated that the people of Florida were not inclined to critical thinking. And those two establishment Republicans had nothing to offer an electorate angrier than ever over things they barely understand: the Iran nuclear deal (no, the US is not “giving” Iran $150 billion); detente with Cuba; marriage equality; the Paris climate change agreement. Rubio tried the optimistic “New American Century” thing. Bush didn’t do “shining city on the hill.” He just touted his mixed record as governor of Florida — and his famous name.

They tried and failed to counter Trump’s bombast, his bread and circuses, his witless sloganeering about “winning” and “deals,” his boasting about bringing back torture and suing newspapers he doesn’t like and making everybody say, “Merry Christmas.”

But you don’t beat rage with policy. And you don’t vanquish a pig by getting down in the mud with him. You can’t win against the promise of “greatness.”

Republican voters in Florida no longer want to think. They just want to believe.

***

Diane Roberts is the author of “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America.” She teaches at Florida State University.

Diane Roberts: Florida GOP voters don’t want to think, they just want to believe

So the other jackboot has dropped: Rick Scott endorsed his Soul Brother but only after that big Florida Primary win.

Scott signaled his man-crush back in January, writing breathlessly for USA Today that Herr Drumpf reminds him of, well, him: rich, an “outsider,” a business hombre incensed over “endless and tedious regulation and taxation.”

You know, crap like the Clean Water Act. And the Voting Rights Act.

Still, Scott couldn’t quite bring himself to come out all the way for the eccentrically coiffed braggart until he saw which way Florida Republicans would blow. After all, they’re the people he needs to propel him to the United States Senate in 2018.

He’s betting (and the evidence is pretty compelling, see 2010 and 2014) that a large hunk of Florida voters no longer care about qualifications or competence. They just want to elect somebody who will throw epic tantrums on their behalf. Somebody who’ll show those uppity feminists and gays and Black Lives Matter kids who’s boss. Somebody who’ll make America white male again.

They don’t want problem-solvers. They want a megaphone.

Meanwhile, the denizens of Punditland are trying to get their heads around what happened to Florida’s once-golden homeboys.

Jeb was the Bush to beat, the Smart One, the guy who’d raised so much money nobody could touch him. Marco Rubio was young, Latino, telegenic and energetic: the new Face of the 21st century GOP.

Ted Cruz? Everybody hates him, especially his fellow senators. You can’t run a serious presidential campaign with no friends. John Kasich? One of those moderate Republicans. He accepted Obamacare in Ohio. He’ll be gone by Iowa.

And as for Trump: are you kidding? The guy’s an idiot. He’s going nowhere.

Yeah.

Got it wrong, didn’t we?

Perhaps not entirely: Cruz is despised by most rational people. Trump is indeed an idiot — the way Mussolini was an idiot. Mean, cunning and narcissistic.

But Rubio wasn’t such a fresh face, after all. His political “philosophy” was opportunism with a spritz of Reagan-lite: path to citizenship for undocumented aliens? Sure — until it upsets the base.

And Bush, well, even Republicans persisting in a perverse fondness for George W. didn’t warm to his “little brother” Jeb. Where George W. won people over by being just as ignorant and incurious — but friendly — as they were, Jeb spouted passionless policy, specifics and other eggheadish stuff.

The truth is that Bush and Rubio were both lackluster candidates, products of Florida’s intellectually bankrupt GOP, a party which was, 35 years ago, strangely progressive on the environment and on social issues, but which now exists — much like the old Pork Chop Democrats — merely to perpetuate their own power.

Bush beat two weak Democrats for governor in 1998 and 2002, kept his nerve in the 2000 presidential vote recount, and tried to dismantle public education in Florida. Somehow that made him look like presidential material — at least to old-line party faithful.

Rubio got himself a couple of fat jobs out of law school, including a teaching gig at FIU funded by private donors, before he hit the Florida House and became Speaker at age 35.

He was elected to the US Senate in 2010, beating former Gov. Charlie Crist. That seemed like a mighty coup. But remember that 2010 was the year the Tea Party grabbed their pitchforks and tricorn hats: that guy in the White House was a Kenyan Muslim socialist atheist revolutionary who was going to get his dusky government hands on their doctors!

And 2010 was also the year Florida elected as governor a guy whose company drew the largest fine in history for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Rick Scott still isn’t in jail.

The signs were there. Bush and Rubio should have noticed that the re-election of Scott indicated that the people of Florida were not inclined to critical thinking. And those two establishment Republicans had nothing to offer an electorate angrier than ever over things they barely understand: the Iran nuclear deal (no, the US is not “giving” Iran $150 billion); detente with Cuba; marriage equality; the Paris climate change agreement. Rubio tried the optimistic “New American Century” thing. Bush didn’t do “shining city on the hill.” He just touted his mixed record as governor of Florida — and his famous name.

They tried and failed to counter Trump’s bombast, his bread and circuses, his witless sloganeering about “winning” and “deals,” his boasting about bringing back torture and suing newspapers he doesn’t like and making everybody say, “Merry Christmas.”

But you don’t beat rage with policy. And you don’t vanquish a pig by getting down in the mud with him. You can’t win against the promise of “greatness.”

Republican voters in Florida no longer want to think. They just want to believe.

***

Diane Roberts is the author of Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Lawmakers make case for dental carve-out bill at Session’s end

Aiming to protect children’s dental insurance under Medicaid, GOP lawmakers held a news conference on Day 60 of the 2016 Legislative Session.

They sought support for the bill, which separates kids’ Medicaid dental insurance from other medical coverage, and to avert a possible veto from Gov. Rick Scott.

Senate President-designate Joe Negron and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz spoke to reporters to burnish their bill, saying it follows national trends and would administer care more efficiently. Both legislators said having a separate policy and benefit card for general medical and dental care cuts out HMO middlemen who subcontract with the same entities the state could deal with directly.

“If you look at states that are making this decision now, they are overwhelmingly going with the independent model,” Negron said. “The states with the highest utilization rates … are going with the model we have proposed.

The Legislature recently approved a similar separation for inmates under the Department of Corrections, said Negron. He said Florida’s children deserve at least the same.

Sen. Alan Hays, a practicing dentist, endorsed the move as well.

“Dentistry is a unique profession, and it deserves to have a unique plan to administer it,” Hays said. He also said that a federal rule mandating that 85 percent of dental funding goes to care – as opposed to overhead – is abrogated when dental and general medical care are intermingled.

Negron said that despite heavy lobbying efforts on behalf of state health care plan interests, ultimately his carve-out will be enacted into law.

“I think when ultimately Governor Scott will look closely at this issue and make the best decision for Florida’s children,” Negron said, “so that children who receive their dental care from Medicaid are treated as much as possible like everyone else in Florida.”

Julio Fuentes: Legislature must approve medication that is tough for patients to abuse

If you think drug misuse and abuse doesn’t affect everyone, think again.  It’s an escalating problem spreading to all corners of our communities and across all socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and ages.

The business community in Florida is no different, and has been severely affected by prescription opioid abuse in particular.   Prescription opioid abuse and addiction transforms hard-working Americans into disrupted and unproductive employees. According to a study, the abuse of prescription opioids cost U.S. businesses more than $25 billion in 2007.

As president of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I believe that we have to address this problem by enacting logical public policies to combat prescription opioid abuse.

I applaud lawmakers in Florida who have adopted laws to combat drug abuse in the past few years, including establishing a more stringent prescription drug monitoring program, making the anti-overdose medication, Naloxone, more readily available, and shutting down pill mills across the state. These steps have saved thousands of lives and are vital tools against drug abuse.

But there are other tools that could be used.

One is the availability of opioids with abuse-deterrent properties (OADPs).  OADPs are the reformulation of prescription opioid pills that make the pills more difficult to crush. Abusers often crush pills so they can smoke, snort, or inject the medication.

According to a study, since the development of the first opioid with abuse-deterrent properties, OADPs have been proven to cut abuse of opioids by 66 percent.

With this tool in the arsenal, I urge Florida’s legislators to pass Senate Bill 422/House Bill 363, which would make OADPs more accessible to physicians and their patients. This is smart legislation that would help to reduce prescription drug abuse.

While Senate Bill 422/House Bill 363 has received widespread support, there has been some misinformation about what the legislation does and how much it will cost.

First, the legislation does not mandate insurance coverage of OADPs, but rather it provides physicians the option to prescribe OADPs without first having to prescribe a more easily abused opioid.

Second, some have raised concerns about the legislation’s potential cost to the state, pointing to the cost attributed to similar legislation last year in Tennessee.  However, comparison to the cost of the Tennessee legislation is inaccurate for a few reasons.

The Florida bill does not apply to Medicaid as it did in Tennessee.  Also, the cost attributed to the Tennessee legislation calculated the cost of converting all opioid prescriptions in Medicaid (Tenncare).

The Florida legislation does not require that all opioids be abuse-deterrent; it simply provides more options for doctors and patients.  Last, the analysis of the Tennessee legislation never included provisions for a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of OADPs.

In fact, a recent report indicated that OADPs could save over $1 billion in benefits because of lower costs related to health care, criminal justice, and higher workplace productivity.

Making OADPs more accessible could help the business community in Florida. In 2010, 73 percent of workers compensation claims involved prescription painkillers.  OADPs could help deter injured employees from abusing their medications, ensure that doctors are able to more safely treat their patients, and help patients quickly recover and return to work.

Florida cannot afford the continued spread of prescription drug abuse. Our lawmakers must adopt Senate Bill 422/House Bill 363 to help businesses throughout Florida save lives and keep their employees healthy and productive.

***

Julio Fuentes is President & CEO of Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Dominic M. Calabro: Allow professionals and technology to provide affordable health care for Floridians

Florida TaxWatch has been a leader in making sure Florida residents have access to affordable health care options, saving millions of dollars and countless lives.

Lawmakers are considering two TaxWatch recommendations to eliminate barriers to 21st century solutions to help Floridians enjoy longer, healthier lives.

One change would reduce the limits on “telehealth” — the use of technology to expand access to all Floridians. More and more health care providers are offering everything from routine visits to critical post-operative check-ups via computers, telephones, and smartphone apps.

Allowing Floridians to get world-class medical care can avoid costly visits to the doctor or hospital while saving time and money. Critical follow-up care for more severe health issues is more easily accessed via telehealth, promoting quicker recoveries and avoiding expensive hospital and emergency room visits.

And telehealth allows Floridians in every corner of the state to have better access to all types of primary and specialty health care regardless of their proximity to doctors and hospitals.

Telehealth options promote incredible savings by providing immediate help and avoiding costly emergencies later. Just a simple 1 percent reduction in Medicaid costs would save Florida taxpayers more than $220 million. And a 1 percent reduction in hospitalizations would save Florida families and businesses more than $1.2 billion annually.

The second TaxWatch proposal lawmakers are considering is expanding the scope of practice for the state’s 15,000 advanced registered nurse practitioners. Freed from short-sighted legal barriers, ARNPs could provide up to 80 percent of the primary care needs for Florida patients. These nationally certified professionals have extensive training, and allowing them to provide efficient and thorough care for basic health care needs would provide quicker, more accessible pathways to health for all Floridians.

All 49 other states have taken steps to reduce restrictions on ARNP scope of practice. Allowing ARNPs in Florida the same freedom to serve would save Floridians up to $44 million per year in Medicaid costs alone and up to $339 million across the entire health care system by providing prompt care before small problems become more serious with costly visits to hospitals and specialists.

Floridians cannot afford to wait any longer for common sense improvements to the health care system. We applaud lawmakers for considering these simple yet critical changes to add value for the hard-working taxpayers and improving the physical, mental and fiscal health of our state.

***

Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s premier independent government watchdog group. Florida TaxWatch is committed to protecting taxpayers by keeping a watchdog’s eyes on our policymakers. Please click here to subscribe to our regular updates. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Senate Health budget panel advances children’s Medicaid dental proposal

Despite some pushback from health insurance carriers, the Senate Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee approved a bill to reform children’s dental coverage by creating an independent program to administer it under the state’s Medicaid regime.

The bill, SB 994, is sponsored by newly minted Senate President-to-be Sen. Joe Negron. Negron said the state’s participation levels in the program is too low – “as low as in the mid-30s,” though insurers disputed that figure  – and that many states that have gone to a separate, independent program for children’s dental have seen more patients receiving treatment.

States such as Connecticut and others that have switched from a unified Medicaid dental program see participation rates of 80 percent or better.

Negron said Democratic- and Republican-leaning states are making the switch – including Louisiana, California, North Carolina, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee in the past two years – and Florida would do well to follow their example.

The immediate fiscal cost for next year would be $450,000, for expert consulting on the proposal and five new positions at the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Negron said his bill lets the current five-year contract continue undisturbed and unabated; AHCA will conduct a study and report to the governor and Legislature; and if the Legislature fails to act by 2017, revert the program back to being an independent, carved-in program.

Audrey Brown, head of the Florida Association of Health Plans, objected to the latter provision.

“Florida’s health plans do not oppose a study of the effectiveness of pediatric dental services under statewide medical managed care as contemplated in the bill,” Brown said. “The plans know dental health is a key component of overall health.

“Our underlying issue with this bill is the way it is drafted. No matter what the study shows, the results don’t seem to matter,” said Brown, referring to the automatic carve-out clause in the bill if the Legislature does not act otherwise. “We ask that before a policy change is made, that the results of the study are evaluated and considered. Otherwise, the study is truly irrelevant.”

Negron said lawmakers certainly would consider the study of the $240 million dollar program.

“My view is, I would rather err on the side of being with the national trend. I’m confident that we’ll be up to that task,” Negron said in closing.

Florida counties “in crisis” without Medicaid expansion, League report says

In a series of broadsides at Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s House leadership, a panel of national health policy experts convened by the League of Women Voters of Florida has released a blistering report to the media outlining the Republican leadership’s decision not to expand Medicaid – in particular, its growing effect on Florida counties.

“The rational, reasonable, and responsible thing to do is to accept the federal funding,” said LWVF President Pamela Goodman during a conference call with reporters across the state.

That argument was buttressed by a deep dive into the impact of steep reductions in LIP (Low Income Pool) funding for Florida, traditionally the state’s major source of safety net funds.

The full complexity of the changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act are many, but in a nutshell, the basic principle of the law bends toward the idea that health insurance coverage is desirable over uncompensated care pools such as LIP. Florida’s LIP pool will be reduced 75 percent for fiscal year 2016-17.

That presents Tallahassee with a major problem in terms of the LIP dollars available, and how they will be allocated.

“The Legislature has two serious issues to deal with,” says Joan Alker, Executive Director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

“The overall cut, which is larger, as well as the way those funds will be distributed. The Legislature has a difficult situation on their hands. Expansion would be a far better financial deal for them.”

Picking up the baton was Miriam Harmatz, Senior Health Law Attorney with Florida Legal Services and co-author of the reports (a separate white paper deals with the effect of LIP reduction in Miami-Dade).

“We have about a million people in Florida who are eligible for federal coverage under the expansion funding,” Harmatz said. “That includes about 600,ooo people in the coverage gap. People who are below 100 percent of the poverty line. We are in a state who hasn’t accepted the funding so they have no path to affordable coverage. They are below the minimum for accepting subsidies in the federal marketplace.

“The issue of Medicaid financing particularly for hospitals is incredibly complicated, but it is landing in a very real way in our communities. Opponents of federal funding saying ‘No, thank you, we won’t accept those dollars to cover the uninsured,’ and this is the fourth year going into this now, and they’re also ignoring the hospitals needing this funding. That’s really all a diversion, and to date has allowed the Legislature to say ‘We’re not going to talk about this.’ But it’s going to be much harder for state leaders to ignore county leaders as people really understand what’s at stake, in terms of the economic implications.”

The bottom line: The report’s author’s argue that the 75 percent reduction of LIP funds in 2016-17 represents a $4.85 billion loss over five years. And that the loss of federal dollars translates into an $8 billion reduction in state GDP, 15,000 lost jobs, and an $8.25 billion loss in personal income.

Of course, this is an argument both the governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature dispute, saying Florida cannot afford to expand Medicaid long term.

What will tell the tale, the authors argue, is how much pain bubbles up in individual Florida counties during the next several years, and how much pressure that brings to bear. A recent death in Miami  that demonstrates that pain was referenced in the call.

“Until the Legislature deals with the problems of the uninsured, the ramifications will be felt locally,” said Harmatz.

Pam Bondi blasts GOP-backed bill on Medicaid

Attorney General Pam Bondi took a rare stance Wednesday, personally criticizing a Republican-backed measure because she said it would derail an ongoing lawsuit alleging Medicaid fraud.

Bondi, who usually remains out of many legislative battles, testified before a House panel that a bill sponsored by a Panama City Republican was a “desperate attempt” to help companies that provide laboratory testing for the state’s safety net health care program.

Bondi’s office joined a whistleblower lawsuit filed in Leon County that contends the companies overcharge the state.

The state’s top legal officer and former Tampa prosecutor said both Quest and Laboratory Corporation of America have overcharged taxpayers by “tens of millions.”

California previously reached settlements with the two companies that totaled nearly $300 million. She said the legislation would give the companies an “open checkbook” to “raid” the multibillion dollar Medicaid program.

“In my five years I have never seen anything like this happen,” Bondi said. “This is an end run, desperate attempt in a potentially multimillion dollar case … It is highly inappropriate.”

Michael Huey, a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist representing Laboratory Corporation of America, told the House panel that Bondi’s criticism were not based on “facts.” He said his clients have won some of the legal skirmishes surrounding the dispute but that the lawsuit is still going on.

Court records show that a circuit judge last year rejected a request to dismiss the lawsuit.

State Rep. Jay Trumbull said he filed the measure (HB 421) in an effort to define billing practices that are at the center of the ongoing lawsuit.

Trumbull said there “too much ambiguity” with the current terms used by the state. He also maintained that he filed the legislation after conducting research about the issue on his own and was not asked by lobbyists representing the testing companies to file the bill.

Some Republicans on the House Health Innovation Subcommittee asked Bondi whether she would be willing to support changes to the bill. Bondi said no, because she said the legislation would create a bad precedent.

“It needs to die here right now,” Bondi said.

After Bondi testified, the House committee delayed a vote on the bill. State Rep. Kenneth Roberson, who chairs the panel, said he wasn’t sure if the bill would be considered at the next meeting.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

Rich Templin: The great Florida surplus myth

Once again, the media is abuzz and many in the Florida Legislature are absolutely giddy at the prospect of what they call a budget surplus this year.

State fiscal analysts are predicting a surplus of about $635 million and the Governor’s Office, using a bit of fuzzy math that no one outside of his administration can understand, is projecting excess revenues of $1.3 billion.

While Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate budget chief Sen. Tom Lee have been cautious at best, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida House leaders have been spraining their arms patting themselves on the back for their good fiscal stewardship and salivating over the tax cuts they hope to hand out like candy during an election year.

Scott has rolled out a $1 billion tax-cut package and he and his minions have been campaigning across the state, in the Capitol and anywhere else they can find a microphone, to get it passed in the Legislature.

All of the logos and printed materials look just like Scott’s last “Let’s Keep Working” election campaign leading many to believe that this is less about smart fiscal policy and more about the next U.S. Senate race.

The tax-cut package has several big ticket components including the permanent elimination of the corporate income tax for manufacturing and retail corporations (which costs $779 million each year), the permanent elimination of sales taxes paid on manufacturing equipment and machinery (which costs $76.9 million each year) and a 1 percent reduction on commercial property leases (which costs $339 million per year).

There are also temporary sales tax holidays that would cost about $75 million per year, but these have really become sales gimmicks for the big retailers and save working families very little money. So in short, as usual, Scott wants big tax cuts for big business while average taxpayers get pennies.

So how much is the surplus? $635 million? $1.3 billion? In reality…there is no surplus.

Webster’s Dictionary defines surplus as “an amount that is more than the amount that is needed.” It is true that the state has more money on hand than last year, but is it more than the amount needed? Not even close.

Average teacher salaries in Florida, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 6.5 percent. Florida had the fewest state employees per 10,000 in population than any state in 2013, almost half of the average number of employees in all the states.

Florida has not expanded Medicaid to uninsured Floridians earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Nearly 600,000 working Floridians would obtain health coverage if Medicaid were expanded.

Florida ranks 47th among the states in the percentage of uninsured children – 11 percent. That means that about 445,000 Florida children are without health coverage.

These are just a few examples of our poor record of funding critical social services, a record that is keeping Florida at or near the bottom in just about every indicator of a strong and vibrant state. We also have huge challenges with poor infrastructure and inadequate resources for environmental protection.

Working families need meaningful investments from state government to help get them back to work, not sales tax holidays that put pennies in their pockets while exploding the profits of Florida’s retailers.

Florida continues to suffer from a major revenue problem. We are home to the fourth wealthiest population in America but are cursed with the second most regressive tax system, meaning the middle class and working poor pay the bulk of the bills while the wealthy and big corporations reap all the benefits.

This so-called “surplus” and the haggling over what to do with it offers us an opportunity.

We can begin to discuss these issues once again as we work to close over $5 billion in corporate tax loopholes and exemptions so that Florida can begin to climb out of the hole created by 17 years of failed “trickle down” economic policies.

***

Rich Templin, Ph.D., is the Legislative Director for the Florida AFL-CIO which represents approximately 500 local labor unions and labor councils, representing over 900,000 workers, retirees and their families in Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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