By GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Republican leaders in the Florida Senate offered up a revamped health care proposal Tuesday in an effort to end a budget stalemate that threatens to shut down state government.
GOP legislative leaders have been odds over health care coverage and the dispute derailed the end of the regular session. Legislators are scheduled to return to the state Capitol next week for a 20-day special session where they are expected to pass a new state budget.
Senate President Andy Gardiner announced what he called a “compromise’’ on health care coverage that is an attempt to win over both skeptical House leaders as well as Gov. Rick Scott.
The new Senate plan would jettison an initial proposal to expand Medicaid this summer, but instead would still call for drawing down federal money linked to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Low-income Floridians would be eligible to purchase coverage through a new exchange, but they would have to pay premiums and they would be required to work. The new health coverage plan would require federal approval and would not kick in until January.
“We have listened to senators, House members, constituents, and other stakeholders and incorporated their feedback to create a stronger Florida solution, the Senate, House and Gov. Scott can proudly present to Washington as Florida’s best offer for a health insurance exchange that meets the unique needs of our state,’’ Gardiner said in a statement.
House leaders and the governor have been strongly opposed to Medicaid expansion. They have called Medicaid a “broken’’ health care system, and have also said they don’t trust the federal government to continue to paying for the program in future.
It’s not clear if the Senate’s latest proposal will go far enough to win them over.
The regular legislative session slammed to a halt in late April after House members abruptly adjourned early due to a stalemate over Medicaid expansion. The divide between the two chambers was sparked by the impending loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid to hospitals that is to set to expire this summer.
Federal officials told Florida that they wanted the state to consider expanding Medicaid insurance as part of the agreement to extend the hospital funds. Last week the Obama administration offered to extend Florida’s hospital funds for another two years, but only at about half the amount the state received last year, saying it would not approve hospital funding for costs that that would be covered by expansion.
Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican who chairs the Senate health care budget committee, said the Senate plan will help the state transition as it loses the federal money for hospitals. He called it a “much better investment of our limited taxpayer dollars.’’