Takeaways from Tallahassee — Sneak preview

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
As Florida braces for billions in health care money, a battle brews.

Sneak preview

Ed. note: This edition’s topper is cross-posted from Christine Sexton’s forthcoming health care newsletter, Diagnosis.

With hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid managed care contracts on the line, there could be some contentious battles in the months ahead both inside and outside the Florida Capitol.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller is so convinced there will be legal challenges as the state begins the process of recouping its Medicaid managed care program that she is asking the Legislature to include an additional $2 million in her agency’s fiscal year 2022-2023 budget to hire outside counsel. Marstiller said she wanted funding available to her agency “at the ready.” to ensure her agency can hire the best outside legal help available.

Simone Marstiller makes plans for a major cash influx.

“This is going to be a very large, high-dollar procurement process. And so, we anticipate the potential for a challenge at the time we put the solicitation out and potentially later at the time that we have awarded contracts,” Marstiller told members of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee this week

She also hinted that her agency would be asking lawmakers in the 2022 Legislative Session to crack open the law that establishes the state’s mandatory Medicaid managed care program to reconfigure the Medicaid Regions. Currently, there are 11 and they are set in statute (along with the number of contracts the state can ink with managed care plans in each area.)

Marstiller told Florida Politics after the meeting that the agency did not have specifics about the potential redesign or how the 11 Regions would change.

But don’t be surprised if Marstiller dusts off an old plan floated by AHCA in 2017 that consolidated the existing 11 Regions into eight.

The 2017 proposal combined current Medicaid Regions 1 and 2 into a new bigger area called Medicaid Region A. Medicaid Regions 3 and 4 were rolled into new Medicaid Region B. And Medicaid Regions 5 and 6 were rolled together into Region C.

The 2017 bill also would have increased the minimum or maximum number of plans with which AHCA will contract in each area with the exception of Medicaid Region 7 (renamed Medicaid Region D under the proposal), which would have remained the same. While the House supported AHCA’s efforts at the time, the Senate had no appetite for change, 117 health care lobbyists registered to lobby the measure, HB 7117.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

DOH fines Leon County $3.6M for vaccine violations – The Health Department fined Leon County $3.57 million for violating the state vaccine passport ban. Under guidance from Gov. Ron DeSantis, DOH and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo found 714 instances, each fined at $5,000, in which the department said the county violated the ban on vaccine mandates. The county ultimately fired 14 employees. County Administrator Vince Long hinted at upcoming legal action to reject the fines. “It’s obvious to me that the Governor’s position here is political strategy which has nothing to do with the positions we’ve taken,” Long said.

Budget strong, but inflation worries continue – DeSantis has spent months warning inflation caused by President Joe Biden’s policies could hamper Florida’s economic recovery. Despite the inflation, labor, supply chain and Christmas gift concerns, Florida is looking at $2.3 billion more general revenue for 2022-23 than previously thought for a total of $36.3 billion. Current projections show Florida besting even pre-pandemic economic projections. However, the Legislature’s top economist attributed half of that to revenue expected from the new online sales tax measure and the Seminole Compact.

DeSantis vows court challenge to Biden vaccine mandate – The Governor has vowed to challenge the federal government’s authority to place vaccine requirements on businesses through Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Attorney General Ashley Moody previously joined a dozen other state attorneys general in threatening a lawsuit. The Biden administration moved closer to its big business mandate this week. “We are going to contest that immediately,” DeSantis said. There’s also a showdown underway in the Lone Star State, where Gov. Greg Abbott has banned vaccine mandates. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said policies from DeSantis and Abbott “fit a familiar pattern of putting politics over public health.” and are “out of step with a history of vaccine requirements.”

Perry files bill banning mask mandates – Sen. Keith Perry filed a bill to codify DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in schools, and he expects more to come. The Gainesville Republican hopes the move will prevent school districts from circumventing the state’s legal position. He called the bill a good opportunity for debate and expert testimony on masking. “I have not seen what I would call one legitimate study on masks and children,” Perry said. The measure would also prohibit cities and counties from requiring people to wear masks or undergo medical procedures or treatments. Next on Perry’s docket is a bill, currently in drafting, to address vaccine requirements. His Gainesville nearly implemented a vaccine requirement for employees before backing down.

Florida gets $1.1 billion Medicaid boost – the federal government has given Florida “conditional approval” of a plan to pump $1.1 billion in increased federal Medicaid funds into home and community-based services. The additional funds are made possible by Congress’ decision to include in the American Rescue Plan a 10% increase in the federal Medicaid match for home and community-based services. The federal funds are flowing into the state as the home and community-based services industry is at a tipping point. Group homes that provide services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are shutting their doors or not taking new clients, the result of going more than a decade without a Medicaid rate increase from the state.

Vaccine scam

Beware, scammers are swindling Florida motorists with a new text scam.

The scam, Moody warned, starts with a text message inviting motorists to feature their vaccination status on their driver’s license.

“Florida is not updating driver’s licenses to include proof of vaccination—any solicitation making this claim is a scam that should be reported immediately,” Moody announced this week.

The scam forward motorists to a fraudulent Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website. There, motorists are asked to submit personal information including Social Security and date of birth.

”If you receive a text asking for this information, it is a scam,” said Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes. With only the information on your driver’s license, scammers can create many fraudulent financial accounts. All under your name, all without your knowledge. Do not respond to these texts and do not click on the links contained in the text message.”

Moody encouraged Floridians to report suspicious solicitations or COVID-19 vaccine-related advertisements online or by phone at 1(866) 9NO-SCAM

Floridians should also avoid posting photos of their vaccine card online and links included in suspicious emails, Moody added.

To watch Moody’s video alert, click on the image below

Gangsta gardener

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Agriculture Department’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness will hold this year’s Farm to School Experience next week.

On Wednesday, the division will hold a free virtual conference to help teach schools, distributors and producers about the 2021 Farm to School initiative. That program helps increase the amount of fresh, local food served in Florida schools. The division also ties it to enhanced academic achievement and supporting Florida’s economy.

Florida school children get the full farm-to-school experience.

“With all the challenges the last year has presented for our agriculture industry, it’s more important than ever that we emphasize the importance of local and Florida-grown produce,” Fried said.

This year’s theme, Transitioning into a New Era, will guide conference guests across five tracks: school gardens, food recovery, logistics, building community and program innovation.

“Gangsta gardener” Ron Finley will provide the keynote speech. He inadvertently started a horticultural revolution when he transformed the barren parkway in front of his South-Central Los Angeles home into an edible oasis.

“Finding new ways to connect with the community on these topics is so important,” said Lakeisha Hood, FDACS Food, Nutrition and wellness director. “Since we made the decision to have the conference virtually, we knew we wanted it to be an experience like no other. Personalized avatars will allow guests to walk through the experience and feel engaged in our content while networking with other attendees.”

Savings Day

Chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis highlighted the importance of stashing cash this week, recognizing Oct. 12 as National Saving Day.

“Saving is the cornerstone of a strong financial foundation. Setting money aside each month allows families to handle unexpected costs or prepare for future expenses, like college tuition,” Patronis said in a statement. “As your chief financial officer, I remain focused on ensuring all Floridians have the tools they need to make their hard-earned money work for them.”

To that end, Patronis provided Floridians with several tips to keep more cash in their pockets. Among them, consumers should monitor their spending.

“You might be surprised what you’re buying, and what you can do without,” Patronis said.

Jimmy Patronis wants you to stash your cash.

He also encouraged Floridians to lower their bills. Creditors, Patronis said, are often willing to lower interest if asked.

“Conserving electricity and gas can make a big difference,” Patronis continued.

Consumers should also categorize expenses. Many items, Patronis suggested, are nonessential.

“Keep the ones you like the best and cut the items on the bottom of the list,” Patronis said.

Floridians can access more information and financial literacy programs offered by the Department of Financial Services online.

Patronis coined the website, Your Money Matters, as a “one-stop-shop” for tips and resources.

Mental health page

Patronis also announced a new mental health care service webpage on the Department of Financial Services website.

The webpage aims to provide resources and assistance to mental health services for consumers.

“Mental health can be a sensitive and difficult topic to approach and I’m proud to provide Floridians with resources they need to seek vital treatment so they can live a healthier life,” Patronis said. “As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, mental health challenges are on the rise nationwide, especially within our first responder and front-line health care communities.”

He also thanked the Legislature, the Governor and first lady Casey DeSantis for stressing the importance of mental health resources.

Jimmy Patronis is pushing for better mental health care.

Legislation from this past Session established new communication duties for health insurers and HMOs. It also creates new reporting requirements for DFS. St. Johns Rep. Cyndi Stevenson filed that measure (HB 701).

“I made it my mission this past legislative session to fight for Floridians and improve resources for individuals with mental health needs,” Stevenson said. “With COVID-19 we saw a looming mental health crisis because of job losses, lockdowns and school closures, and that is one of the many reasons it is so critical that consumers have access to the mental health services they need when they need it.”

The Mental Health Care Service website includes information on what insurance benefits are available in Florida, requirements for coverage by group health plans under Florida law, information on the Federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, and information on filing an appeal of a denied pre-authorization or claim. It also links to a frequently asked questions page and one with consumer tips.

The website can be found here.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

Rare Disease Advisory Council — DeSantis appointed Jonathan Hawayek to the Council. Hawayek is the state government affairs lead for Spark Therapeutics. Previously, he held government affairs positions with Zoll Medical and Allergan. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from the State University of New York at Geneseo and his MBA from Clarkson University.

Board of Veterinary Medicine — The Governor reappointed Rudd Nelson and Sharon Powell to the Board Friday. Nelson, of Fort Lauderdale, is a licensed veterinarian practicing at Bayview Animal Clinic and has served on the Board since 2016. Nelson earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Wartburg College and a doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Mississippi State University. Powell, of Fort Myers, has also served on the Board since 2016. She is a licensed veterinarian and owner of Edison Park Animal Hospital. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University.

Florida Commission on Community Service — DeSantis announced a dozen appointments to the Commission late Friday. Ancora-Brown of winter Garden is Director of External Affairs at Walt Disney World Resort and earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and her MBA from the University of Miami. Christina Bonarrigo Vilamil of Coral Gables is a consultant with Converge GPS who received her bachelor’s degree in political science and her master’s degree in management from UF. Jayne Cerio of Tallahassee is a former schoolteacher with Hillsborough and Alachua County Schools. She earned her bachelor’s degree with high honors in education and her Master of Education from UF. Henri Crockett of Pembroke Pines is a retired NFL player who also played on the 1993 National Champion football team at FSU, where he earned his degree in criminology. He is now CEO of The Crockett Foundation. John Davis of Orlando is Secretary of the Florida Lottery. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from FSU, where he was a standout safety on the Seminole football team. Ebo Entsuah of Clermont is a principal with Advanced Energy Economy and a member of the Clermont City Council. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from FSU, where he was a member of the Seminole football team. Adam Farout of Tallahassee is CEO of Titus Sports Academy, a gym focused on athletic development and training. He earned his bachelor’s degree from FSU. Dakeyan Graham of Tallahassee is Executive Director of Independent Education and Parent Choice for the Florida department of education and the 2020 DOE teacher of the Year. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from the UF, master’s degree in educational leadership from Concordia University and doctorate from USF. autumn Karlinsky of Weston is a volunteer who has been on the Commission on Community Service since 2012 and recently served as commission chair. She is a certified dental hygienist with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from Saint Petersburg College. Kerry Schultz of Gulf Breeze is an attorney and partner with Fountain, Schultz & Associates. She earned dual bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from Oklahoma City University and her law degree from Western Michigan University. Kelli Walker of Tallahassee is the District volunteer coordinator for Leon County Schools. She earned her bachelor’s degree from FSU. Ameiko Watson of Stone Mountain, Georgia, is State Director for The Corporation for National and Community Service. Watson earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from FAMU.

Pushback

Sen. Annette Taddeo and Rep. Dan Daley are back with legislation to repeal a state law blocking local governments from approving stricter gun regulations.

The two Democrats have stumped for more local control in the past. But Republican Party lawmakers have blocked their work to undo the state’s preemption on gun control. This year’s version is likely to meet significant resistance again.

Still, Taddeo and Daley filed legislation (SB 496, HB 6049) ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session to repeal the state preemption law.

“Gun violence is a nationwide problem that requires all hands on deck to solve; restricting local officials from doing their part to combat this effort is dangerous,” Taddeo said in a written statement promoting the legislation

Dan Dailey and Annette Taddeo feel gun safety is best handled on a local level.

Existing law bars local governments from passing any gun control measures stricter than state law. Those who back the existing state preemption argue conflicting local measures could confuse residents who carry weapons while moving between counties.

But Daley, whose district includes several families affected by the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, says local officials should have more say.

“Since 2011, local elected officials, those who know their community best, have been prevented from doing what their residents demand,” Daley said. “Gun violence is an epidemic that the entire nation is being subjected to and all levels of government should have a seat at the solution table.”

Lawmakers passed the original gun preemption law in 1987. In 2011, the Legislature increased penalties for local officials who approve measures that violate the preemption, subjecting local subjects to fines and removal from office.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to take up a case challenging those 2011 provisions, though that case would likely not affect the underlying preemption. The bills from Taddeo and Daley would repeal the full restrictions, giving local officials full control over the issue.

Disclosure

Rep. Spencer Roach has filed a measure (HB 301) to require municipal elected officials to publicly disclose their financial interests and assets, an effort at increasing transparency in local government.

Currently, Mayors and City Council members are not required to file a full and public disclosure of financial interests. Instead, they file a statement with what the Lee County Republican calls a minimal disclosure requirement to report dollar value thresholds.

Spencer Roach calls for elected officials to come clean.

“We need to shine a light into the dark-money corners of local governments and bring them into the sunshine,” Roach said. “Mayors and city council members across the state of Florida routinely award millions — if not billions — of dollars in contracts. The public has a right to know if elected officials or their families are benefiting financially at the cost of tax-payer dollars.”

Roach serves on the House Public Integrity & Elections Committee. He noted that members of the Legislature have been filing full financial disclosures since 1976.

“There is no rational explanation why local elected officials should not be held to the same level of transparency and accountability,” he added. “Any voter should immediately be suspicious of a politician who seeks to shield their financial interests from public disclosure.”

Main Street

This week, Secretary of State Laurel Lee named Chattahoochee Main Street as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month.

The Florida Main Street Program is a statewide community revitalization initiative. Administered by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, the program oversees 51 communities statewide and encourages economic development as well as historic preservation.

In a news release, Lee recognized several accomplishments under the program including the completion of two historic structure surveys.

New improvements get Chattahoochee props as Florida’s Main Street of the month.

“Chattahoochee Main Street has shown incredible resilience and strength in response to natural and economic adversities,” said Secretary Lee in reference to Hurricane Michael. “I would like to thank their staff, board members, and volunteers for their continued support of their local Main Street program. You are the force that keeps Chattahoochee moving toward an even better and brighter future.”

The Chattahoochee Historic District landed on the National Register of Historic Places in Sept. 2020, according to the news release.

Since 2013, Chattahoochee Main Street has reported roughly $933,466 in public and private reinvestments and welcomed nine new businesses and 27 new full-time and part-time jobs to the district.

More information on Chattahoochee Main Street and the Florida Main Street Program is available online

Site reuse

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored Naval Air Station Key West Partnering Team with an excellence award in site reuse.

The state Department of Environmental Protection partnered with the U.S. Navy, the city of Key West and developers to transform the former naval air station into an array of public facilities. That project, under the Base Realignment and Closure program, received the 2021 National Federal Facility Excellence in Site Reuse Award.

The Key West Naval Air Station reaches out to the community.

“This achievement highlights the importance of maintaining strong public and private partnerships to protect Florida’s environment, safeguard public health, and improve the quality of life for the residents of Florida,” DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said. “Through collaboration, determination and innovation, the NAS Key West Partnering Team was able to deliver a truly beautiful park.”

The 23-acre Truman Waterfront Park, formerly part of the Naval Air Station Key West, was closed as part of the program. It’s been redeveloped into a park that includes an interactive water feature and playground, turnaround and transit stops for public transportation, an amphitheater, a multipurpose field, a dog park, a pedestrian promenade, and horse stables for the Key West mounted police.

“On behalf of the citizens of Key West, I would like to thank our NAS Key West cleanup team whose efforts allowed us to address two of our most pressing issues; affordable housing and public green space for our residents and guests,” Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said. “Over the past several years, we have been able to build 212 low-income housing units and 106 assisted living units along with a world-class public park thanks to this generous contribution to our community. We remain grateful for this collaboration with NAS Key West.”

New look

The great outdoors has a lot to offer, but its website game is lacking. Or it was before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave it a makeover.

FWC Chair Rodney Barreto recently unveiled a new look and feel for the agency’s official online recreational licensing website, GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, and the Fish | Hunt Florida app, though the keen outdoorsman may have noticed the change when it went live earlier this month.

The FWC app gives Florida’s outdoors a new look.

“Florida’s online licensing system is often the gateway to all things FWC for new and renewing hunters and anglers,” he said. “The new system will be more streamlined, have enhanced navigation and will improve the customer experience. We look forward to seeing what all this new system can do in the future as well.”

FWC reminded Floridians that the only way to get a legit hunting or fishing license online is by using the site or app.

For more on FWC license requirements, visit MyFWC.com/License. Don’t forget to try out the redesigned Fish | Hunt Florida app on Apple or Android to renew, purchase, and sync and store your license on your smartphone or tablet.

Silver anniversary

This month marks the 13th anniversary of Florida’s Silver Alert Program to recover 268 missing seniors.

Silver Alerts are activated statewide at the request of local law enforcement after a senior with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia goes missing in a vehicle. Once a Silver Alert is issued, information about the missing senior is communicated to the public through local media outlets, lottery terminals and highway message signs.

Since Oct. 8 2008, the program has delivered 2,721 Silver Alerts and has been directly responsible for recovering 268 missing seniors.

Silver alerts hit their teen years.

“We see successful Silver Alert recoveries each month because our partners quickly and effectively share critical information which citizens respond to,” said Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen. “The Silver Alert program makes the public our most valuable partner in saving the lives of our missing senior citizens.”

Once the person has been recovered, the Department of Elder Affairs, in coordination with the Area Agencies on Aging and Florida’s Memory Disorder Clinics, work to provide follow-up assistance to the senior.

Through coordinated state and local efforts, Florida’s Silver Alert program has gained the reputation of being an effective and necessary tool that has encouraged communities to participate in locating our missing elders.

“The Silver Alert has been and continues to be, an essential program that helps older adults with ADRD stay safe,” said Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom. “We know that of the 5.5 million residents in our state aged 60 and older that more than 580,000 individuals live with Alzheimer’s disease alone. The State of Florida has made researching and ending Alzheimer’s disease and all dementias a top priority, so it’s important we continue to support programs like the Silver Alert as our population ages.”

Energy-aware

One of the many lessons learned over the past 18 months is that more time at home means bigger electric bills.

But the Public Service Commission says it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many simple ways Floridians can shave a few bucks off their utility bills, and there’s no better time than National Energy Awareness Month to give them a shot.

“With many of us returning to our physical offices, Energy Awareness Month is a good time to promote the importance of energy conservation at home and at the office,” PSC Chairman Gary Clark said. “At home, we save money on our electric bill by using less energy. At the office, we do our part to reduce costs by using less energy. Practicing energy conservation at every opportunity is always a good idea!”

The PSC gives Floridians a lesson in energy conservation.

So, what can you do?

For starters, flip the switch when you leave a room — lighting accounts for 12% of the typical electric bill. If you’re not a ride-or-die incandescent user, then you can also save some cash by switching to LED bulbs where possible.

The average home HVAC system isn’t powerful enough to heat or cool an entire neighborhood, so don’t make it try. Instead, scope out any potential leaks in the weather stripping around doors and windows and check your insulation.

If you want to get a little bougie with it, snag a smart thermostat. About half of a typical utility bill is for heating and cooling, so it’ll pay for itself in the long run.

The commission also suggests checking insulation, especially in older homes. The same goes for appliances — if they’re older, chances are they’re less efficient than modern models.

For Floridians who need a visual aid for their home check, the PSC Conservation House is a good place to start.

Exceptional employers

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Blind Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation has recognized 10 businesses with Exceptional Employer Awards.

The awards are presented to companies that have a strong commitment to hiring people with unique abilities. RESPECT of Florida, which employs people with disabilities, sponsored the plaques that were presented to the winners.

“I am excited to see how these businesses share our vision and improve both the lives of the individuals with disabilities whom they hire and, at the same time, the success of their organizations,” DeSantis said.

The Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf and Spa Resort is one of Florida’s best employers for people with disabilities.

The 10 award-winning businesses are Advance Auto Parts, Bob Sierra North Tampa YMCA, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Flagler College of St. Augustine and Aramark at Flagler College, Glory Days Grill, Golden Corral of Jacksonville, Helping Hands for Homemaking and Companionship, Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf and Spa Resort, Sonic Drive-In of Yulee and The Fresh Market of Aventura.

“We are delighted to honor these deserving companies for their ongoing commitment to employing people with disabilities in their workforces,” agency Director Barbara Palmer said. “Hiring someone with unique abilities is a good business decision. These businesses know firsthand that these individuals with special abilities are the most reliable employees within their organizations.”

The agency highlighted the winners during its 16th annual celebration as part of Disability Employment Awareness Month. Individuals highlighted during the celebration include North Tampa YMCA employee Robyn Stawski, Five Guys Burgers and Fries employee Robert Stokes, and Radiology Associates of Tallahassee employee Reagan Brown, who all shared what having a job means to them.

Money wanted

Volunteer Florida has announced its 2022-23 AmeriCorps funding RFP, open until the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 1.

Volunteer Florida manages AmeriCorps in Florida. In the past year, nearly 1,500 people pledged to improve Florida’s communities through AmeriCorps.

“Volunteer Florida is immensely proud to offer this funding opportunity with AmeriCorps, increasing impact through local organizations getting things done throughout the Sunshine State,” Volunteer Florida CEO Corey Simon said. “AmeriCorps members are on Florida’s front lines of environmental stewardship, workforce development, educational mentorship, and so much more. We implore those organizations looking to affect the greatest change in their local communities to apply for this opportunity.”

AmeriCorps members serve in many different capacities, including educational support, veterans’ services, public land conservation, disaster response, and more. Member activities include tutoring and mentoring underserved students, supporting veterans and military families, sustaining state parks, as well as responding to emergencies and disasters.

Over the past 25 years, AmeriCorps has empowered over 1.4 million individuals nationwide to dedicate a year of service, driving solutions to our communities’ most pressing issues. In return, members gain leadership skills and on-the-job training, as well as a living stipend and educational award equivalent to the Pell Grant, used to help pay for post-secondary education costs upon completion of their service.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

No surprises

The Florida Association of Health Plans is celebrating a recent federal court decision upholding a law banning balance billing by air ambulances.

FAHP President and CEO Audrey Brown lauded the decision, which came down in the Northern District of Florida. The court issued an order dismissing a lawsuit filed by Air Methods Corporation and Rocky Mountain Holdings.

“Florida is the only state in the nation to find a legislative path forward — that has been upheld time and again by the court system — to ban air ambulances from balance billing Floridians, an anti-consumer practice that burdened our state’s families,” Brown said.

No more surprises with balance billing for air ambulances.

She also thanked Sen. Manny Díaz and Rep. Jayer Williamson for filing the bill that banned the practice. FAHP also encouraged the federal government to ban the practice through the No Surprises Act, which will take effect in January.

The law prevents insurers and air ambulance companies from billing patients who are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network doctor or hospital.

“Thanks to Florida’s leadership on this issue, balance billing remains prohibited and air ambulance companies can no longer profit off the backs of Floridians going through unimaginable hardship,” Brown said.

Keep it rolling

Florida State University and the Department of Corrections have re-upped their art therapy program for prisoners.

The program, funded by a multi-year grant via the Disabilities Education Act, provides young adult inmates with special needs and obstacles the opportunity to earn their GED and address topics such as mental health and emotional and behavioral challenges through art therapy.

“This project is a prime example of the potential art has to support and to effect positive change in peoples’ lives. The intersection of wellness and education is particularly satisfying in this endeavor,” said James Frazier, dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Casey Barlow, Dave Gussak and Evie Soape are working with the Florida State University Art Therapy program and the Florida DOC to help incarcerated people thrive through art. Image via FSU.

FSU and DOC launched the program in January 2020 and, according to both parties, it has been a success. So much so that it has expanded from five prisons to nine and they’ve inked a three-year contract to keep it around.

“This program has been so valuable, especially during this pandemic,” said Dave Gussak, a professor in the Department of Art Education and program coordinator for FSU/FDC Art Therapy in Prisons Program. “For a population that already feels forgotten inside, the situation can turn dangerous. We are connecting and accepting them through art, and they are feeling the connection.”

DOC special education programs administrator Anna Schubarth added, “The Art Therapy in Prisons Project is a model for providing meaningful, adaptable, therapeutic services to a population in need of a productive, creative outlet. I am honored to be a part of this project expansion and look forward to what the future may bring.”

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports


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