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Florida Health Care Agencies Seek Boost In Budget For Drug Importation, Hep A

Florida Legislature
Florida House of Representatives
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Despite a possibly tight budget next year, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration submitted a legislative wish list this week that seeks hundreds of millions of additional dollars for health and social-service programs. 

Top officials from six health care-related agencies appeared Wednesday before the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and made pitches for spending boosts. DeSantis will roll out his budget recommendations later this year in advance of the Jan. 14 start of the 2020 legislative session..

Some of the wish-list items for next year included $15.2 million to help control outbreaks of diseases such as Hepatitis A and address potential infectious-disease threats; $25 million to hire a contractor to help get the state's Canadian drug-importation program off the ground; and $12.6 million to improve health-care data collection.

Chad Poppell, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, presented a request that included $156 million in increased general revenue --- which is the main funding source for state government. He said the proposal was something that he didn’t “lightly.”

Poppell said the culture at the mammoth agency is similar to a hospital emergency room, with the agency treating the “problem at the moment.”

But he said the agency wants to move more in the direction of preventive efforts and reduce the number of families in crisis by 20 percent by 2021.

“With the governor’s backing, we are trying to make significant changes to how DCF operates, fundamentally operates, and manages its systems of care,” he said.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities outlined a wish list that included about $115 million in new general revenue. Included in that request was $21.7 million to add more clients to a Medicaid program that provides home and community-based services, a program carried out through what is known as the iBudget.

Another $50 million in general revenue would help plug what is expected to be a deficit in the budget for the current fiscal year, which will end June 30.

The iBudget is one of the few Medicaid-funded services in state government not administered by managed-care plans.

Frustrated with deficits, though, the Legislature last year directed the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to propose a potential redesign of the iBudget program and submit it for consideration by Sept. 30.

State agencies are making budget requests as an initial step in a months-long process that will lead to lawmakers passing a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The requests for hundreds of millions of dollars in health and social-services funding came on the heels of a new economic forecast that lowered general-revenue estimates by $867 million over the two years.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, warned this summer that the economy is slowing, describing it as “winded.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration’s budget request includes following up on a bill (HB 19) that lawmakers passed this spring to allow importation of cheaper prescription drugs. If the federal government approves the idea, the state would establish two new drug importation programs. One program would import drugs from Canada for state health-care spending, including Medicaid and prison health care, and another international drug program would be for individual Floridians.

The Canadian drug-importation program, though, could cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars before it saves any money. Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew told members of the House panel that she needed $25 million to hire a contractor that can get the program operational. She also requested $427,019 to hire three full-time staff members to work with the vendor.

Meanwhile, Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees said he wants to target $7.2 million in general revenue next year to purchase vaccines to help abate the state’s hepatitis A epidemic. Florida has had 2,540 reported cases this year of hepatitis A, including 78 last week, according to the latest data posted on the department website.