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Florida House Speaker prepares to make his pitch for alternative health insurance plan

4:15 PM, Apr 19, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - The Florida House is moving ahead with a health care proposal that rejects billions of dollars in federal cash intended to extend health coverage to uninsured Floridians.

On Friday, the House Appropriations Committee passed a scaled-back health care plan that uses only state money to provide health insurance to low-income, disabled adults and those with children.

The proposal would give them $2,000 annual subsidies to buy private health insurance through a new program called Florida Health Choices.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, estimates the plan would help about 400,000 Floridians get into private health care plans like Blue Cross Blue Shield or Aetna.

Weatherford argues Florida can't count on the federal government to send more than $50 billion to the state over the next decade for expanded health insurance.

"The challenge with the federal government is we just can't trust them to fulfill their promises. This is a federal government that hasn't passed a budget in four years. It's a federal government that has a $16 trillion deficit and we've just decided as the Florida House that our plan should be sustainable, we can pay for it with state funds and we can also utilize the federal exchange that will start in January of 2014."

Weatherford believes about 300,000 uninsured Floridians will be able to gain access to health coverage through that state exchange, operated by the feds. Another 100,000-plus people could get coverage from the House proposal, which is estimated to cost $240 million a year.

Meanwhile, the Florida Senate has a proposal that would accept the federal money to expand health coverage to about a million uninsured Floridians.

Supporters of accepting the federal money argue Floridians are already sending their tax dollars to Washington so they should get a return on that cash for a health care expansion. Otherwise, they say, those tax dollars just go to other states to pay for their health care needs.

Weatherford doesn't buy it.

"If we don't take the federal money, it doesn't go to another state. Hopefully it will go toward paying down the national debt as we have a lot of challenges with. So I don't think a good argument is expand a government entitlement program that has bad outcomes just because you're helping pay for it. We are going to be self-sustaining in Florida and for us to be a prosperous state, for us to continue to grow and create jobs and be the best state in America when it comes to job production, we've got to make sure we're not creating an entitlement state and that's what Medicaid expansion does."

Some lawmakers are pushing for a mix of the two proposals. Weatherford says he's willing to negotiate on expanding the number of people covered in the House plan, but he's not ready to talk about accepting the federal cash.

"If the Senate wants to negotiate about how big our plan is and making it bigger, that's something we can talk about. If it's about taking federal money that's not sustainable, I'm not sure we'll get very far."

The proposal heads to the House floor next week. Weatherford says he's looking forward to explaining to Floridians and Gov. Rick Scott, who supports accepting federal money for health coverage, why the House plan makes sense.

Dave Heller

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