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FL Medicaid could get $700M

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By Jim Saunders
8/5/2010 © Health News Florida

After months of uncertainty, Florida is poised to receive about $700 million in additional Medicaid funding after Democrats in the U.S. Senate overcame fierce Republican opposition Wednesday.

The bill to provide an extra $16 billion in Medicaid funding to states cleared two key procedural votes, setting up a final Senate vote today. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to call House members back from a recess next week to give final approval to the measure, which also includes about $10 billion in other money for cash-strapped states.

"Hallelujah,'' state Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, said this morning when told about the Medicaid funding.

Ron Book, a lobbyist for Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, which would receive as much as $50 million, called it a "tremendous victory for the people,'' not just health providers.

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist, said the state estimates it would receive about $700 million in additional Medicaid funding from the bill. An earlier proposal would have sent $24 billion in Medicaid money to states, with Florida receiving about $1 billion of that amount.

Florida lawmakers this spring passed a budget that included a list of about $270 million in spending items --- such as money for hospitals, nursing homes and cancer research --- that was contingent on receiving additional Medicaid money. Also, they hoped to use hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster the state's reserves.

Perhaps the highest-profile recipient of additional federal money would be the financially troubled Jackson. The original legislative spending list called for the hospital to receive $50 million, though it was not immediately clear today whether the total would be the same after the U.S. Senate reduced the overall amount of money coming to Florida.

"We're hopeful that the numbers in the budget will stand,'' Book said this morning.

The additional Medicaid money would come through an extension of increased federal matching funds, or what is known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Such an extension would last through June 30, 2011, the end of Florida's fiscal year.

Peaden, however, remained critical of legislative decisions not to funnel all of the additional federal money into health care, including the Medicaid program.

"It still should be only where it needs to go --- on health care,'' said Peaden, who will leave office this fall because of term limits.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate had repeatedly blocked Democratic efforts to approve the additional Medicaid money. But when education money for teachers was added to the mix and Democrats found savings to pay for it, the votes were there to overcome a filibuster.

More about the debate and developments in Washington is at Politico. 

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.