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FL Legislature Back In Session: Budget & Healthcare On Agenda

Photo via Flickr// Steven Martin

The Florida Legislature convened in special session on Monday, charged with completing a state budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli gaveled in the House, with neither that chamber nor the Senate appearing any closer to resolving their differences over expanding health care coverage; the obstacle that caused Crisafulli to adjourn in April without a spending plan.

The Senate has a new proposal to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance if they are working, looking for work, or in school. The plan would draw down federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“I think health care debate will last long after I’m gone,” said Gardiner. “Whether you like Obamacare or not, it is changing the dynamics in how our health care is going to be delivered in this country.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner says sooner or later, Florida will have to come to terms with Obamacare's changes to the U.S. health care system. The goal for the special session, he says, is twofold: finding 22 Republicans in the Senate to go along, and then getting the blessing of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

House Minority Leader Mark Pafford says amid the optimism, it wouldn’t surprise him to see a budget completed on time without any provision for health care expansion. But he adds it’s too early to tell just yet.

“We’ll know on Thursday, when the Senate budget bill is taken out of messages,” said Pafford. “And the House will presumably amend it with our own budget which won’t include healthcare expansion.

Along with Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli remains opposed to the Senate plan, which he says is just Obamacare by another name.

“It’s still Medicaid expansion, it uses the Medicaid population, the Medicaid dollars and the program rules,” Crisafulli said. “There’s a saying ‘If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.’”

Since the regular session ended five weeks ago, the federal government has told Florida that it could lose $1.1 billion from a pool of money for charity and Medicaid payments to state hospitals. Lawmakers will have to decide how to make up the difference between now and June 20.