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FL Gets More Time, Holds Hearings

Florida lawmakers, playing catch-up on the Affordable Care Act, got a break from Washington on Tuesday just before hearing from confused business owners, a worried widow and others.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the deadlines for creating or participating in a health insurance exchange -- an online shopping site for individuals and families to buy subsidized coverage -- will be stretched since so many states have not met them.

That may make it possible for Florida to participate in the exchange this year or at least assume more responsibility for it next year, Sen. Joe Negron said on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican who joined Florida’s Rick Scott in a failed attempt to have the health law thrown out, announced her state will accept federal funds to expand the Medicaid program.

One of the major issues before the Florida Legislature this year is the decision on Medicaid expansion, which would cover about 1 million more of the state's uninsured. Scott has resisted the idea, saying it would cost the state too much, but Brewer said she expects costs to be covered by federal funds.

In Tallahassee, Negron convened the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for its second hearing, and a similar committee in the House met for the first time.

Palm Beach Gardens widow Arie Strobel, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, told both committees she has been unable to get insurance since her husband’s death and said she hopes to remain healthy until the ACA's full implementation in January. She asked lawmakers to extend coverage to as many people as possible.

Several business owners told lawmakers they are confused about what the ACA requires of them and worried about its potential costs. The law requires companies with at least 50 workers to provide coverage or pay a penalty.

Jon Urbanek, an executive at Florida Blue, said that many employers who had vowed to stop providing coverage to workers after passage of the ACA have calmed down after talking over their options.

Negron said he intends to have the committee’s recommendations on the health exchange, Medicaid expansion and other ACA-related matters ready by the first week of March, when the Legislature convenes for its 2013 regular session.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.