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Capitol Round-up: Hospitals, Drugs, Predators

While most of the attention in Tallahassee this week has been elsewhere -- on education standards or the rollout of the health law -- legislative committees are grilling agency chiefs and hearing from the public on topics that could lead to action in 2014.

--In the case of sex offenders, lawmakers promised strong action in the wake of an investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinelthat showed the state in recent years had released many more predators than in past years -- predators who went on to rape and kill.

"Children are dead, lives have been destroyed,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "That's unacceptable. I think we all concur.''

--The state will seek federal funds for a program critical to hospitals that care for large numbers of uninsured and low-income patients.  Justin Senior, Medicaid deputy secretary at the Agency for Health Care Administration, said Florida will try to expand the “Low Income Pool” program from $1 billion a year to $3 billion a year when it comes up for federal renewal in 2014, the News Service of Floridareports.   AHCA will submit a three-year extension for the LIP program in November.

--A new report on deaths from drug overdoses shows a sharp drop, theBradenton Heraldreports. One might think it is at least partly a result of the state’s prescription-drug monitoring program, along with a crackdown by a statewide law-enforcement team.

But lawmakers on Tuesday were highly critical of the Department of Health, which oversees the database system, saying DOH has not been careful enough in guarding privacy of the electronic records. The criticism stems from a criminal case in Daytona Beach, in which an attorney for a defendant was sent information from the database.

Becky Poston, chief of the database program for DOH, said the agency is holding hearings to tighten the regulations, but that didn’t satisfy Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean. As News Service of Floridareports, he said. “My gut tells me changes need to be  made.”

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.