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Health issues focus of Oct. debate

By Jim Saunders
6/24/2010 © Health News Florida
With Florida facing major questions about how to tame Medicaid costs and reduce the number of uninsured residents, the state's gubernatorial candidates likely will have to offer answers during a televised debate in October.

The Florida Public Broadcasting Service and the League of Women Voters of Florida have scheduled an Oct. 14 debate in Orlando that will focus on health-care issues. The debate, hosted by the Florida Hospital Association as part of its annual meeting, will be broadcast statewide on public television and radio stations.

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters, said Florida has "complex, challenging issues'' that voters want to hear the candidates address, such as Medicaid, federal health reform and one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation.

Bill Bell, general counsel of the hospital association, said it will be the first time his organization has been involved in hosting such a debate.

"Obviously, health care is an important issue now and going forward, and we thought it was a great opportunity to help educate the voters on the campaigns,'' Bell said.

Macnab said she expects the debate to be all about health care, though Janyth Righter, executive director of the public broadcasting service, said other issues could be discussed. Nevertheless, Righter said health care will be the main issue.

Candidates have not committed to participating in the debate, but the party nominees are still to be determined in Aug. 24 primary elections. While Democrat Alex Sink is expected to cruise to her party's nomination against a little-known opponent, Republicans have a fierce primary fight between Attorney General Bill McCollum and health-care executive Rick Scott.

Another possible participant in the debate is no-party candidate Lawton "Bud" Chiles, the son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Kristy Campbell, a McCollum spokeswoman, said she had not seen an invitation to the debate Wednesday and that the campaign will have to look at factors such as scheduling. Spokeswomen for Sink and Scott could not be reached for comment.

The debate will come less than three weeks before the Nov. 2 general election. Regardless of which candidate wins the election, the next governor will have to deal with difficult health-care issues.

Lawmakers this year considered a massive overhaul of Medicaid that could have led to recipients in all or parts of the state being shifted into managed-care plans. That controversial idea failed to pass, but incoming legislative leaders have already said they want to revive it next year.

Gov. Charlie Crist did not play a hands-on role in the debate this year. But as a sign of the governor's power in such issues, he helped kill a House managed-care proposal by suggesting he might veto it.

The debate also could include McCollum or Scott --- whichever is the Republican nominee --- addressing other health-related controversies.

McCollum has filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking key parts of the federal health-reform law that President Obama signed in March. Scott, meanwhile, has faced repeated questions about $1.7 billion in fraud-related fines that Columbia/HCA paid after he left the company.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at