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Obama: No extras for FL

By Carol Gentry
3/3/2010 © Health News Florida

Remember Florida's cushion from Medicare Advantage cuts included in the Senate bill? It's gone, says President Obama. 

The special arrangement for Medicare recipients in some high-cost counties -- derided by Republicans as the "Florida FlimFlam" -- has been axed as one of the President's gestures to opponents of health reform, according to a letter he sent to House and Senate leaders.
The Florida concession, described in a Health News Florida article in December, was orchestrated by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, during the Senate Finance and Tax Committee deliberations on health reform last fall. 

Update: Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for Sen. Nelson, sent this statement Wednesday afternoon: "Sen. Nelson’s reviewing the president’s proposal and waiting on additional information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If the plan cuts benefits for Medicare Advantage policyholders, an awful lot seniors on fixed incomes and tight budgets will see higher out-of-pocket medical expenses. And that doesn’t seem like health-care reform."  

Obama's renunciation of the deal has been overshadowed by his offer to include four major GOP proposals in his health overhaul: high-deductible plans with health savings accounts as a choice on the exchange; more money for tort-reform experiments, including health courts; higher Medicaid pay for doctors; and using health professionals as undercover investigators of fraud and abuse. Obama has said  he will make his proposal public today.

His reference to Florida was fleeting, included as one of the "provisions that were added to the legislation that shouldn't have been" that were brought up by Sen. John McCain at last week's health summit. It provided extra money to taper the Medicare Advantage cuts in high-cost areas to avoid a bumpy landing for plan members who might lose free eyeglasses, gym memberships, dental care and premium give-backs.

The Medicare  Payment AdvisoryCommission, or MedPAC, and several governmental agencies have said that Medicare Advantage plans are overpaid, compared with traditional fee-for-service Medicare, by about 14  percent. The plans were originally created to save taxpayers money.

When Nelson added the cushion against cuts to the health-reform bill, Republicans accused him of trying to minimize blowback from angry Medicare Advantage members when his re-election came up. Florida has close to 1 million members in such plans.

Last month, Nelson sent out a letter to the media saying: "There's been a lot of deliberate and blatant misinformation" about his amendment. "I've heard it all, from how it was a back-door deal" to misinformation about the number of beneficiaries covered by it.

"Fact is, there was no deal," Nelson wrote, noting that it covered 800,000 seniors in Florida as well as some in California and New York. The amendment was debated in public in October, he said: "There was no hush-hush deal for my vote on the broader health care bill." 

--Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.