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Scott administration backtracked on grant for disabled

Who decided that Florida should give up millions of dollars' worth of federal grants that would have helped the disabled leave nursing homes, as well as services for children and the elderly?

The assumption has been that the losses -- $19 million for this coming year alone -- were instigated by the Legislature, especially the House. Speaker Dean Cannon had ordered agencies not to implement any part of the federal health law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A number of grants were rolled into the ACA.

But two high-ranking House members instrumental in spending decisions say the Agency for Health Care Administration never asked for the spending authority. AHCA spokeswoman Michelle Dahnke confirmed that.

She declined to say whether the decision was made by Secretary Liz Dudek or her boss, Gov. Rick Scott. "It's irrelevant," Dahnke said today. "It's old news."

However, it is the first indication that Scott quietly changed his mind about accepting the "Money Follows the Person" grant -- a five-year, $35.7-million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.

After the grant was awarded to Florida and a dozen other states in late February, Scott's spokeswoman Amy Graham had said that AHCA could accept the money because the program had already been under way before the ACA extended the funding.

“The state will not be drawing down any dollars that bring about the implementation of ObamaCare,” she said at the time, using opponents’ slang term for the ACA.

A spokeswoman for HHS said at the time, “We’re glad they’re taking the money.”

Last week, when Health News Florida reported that the Legislature didn't give AHCA the authority to spend the money, patient advocates were dismayed. They said it serves the interests of both taxpayers and patients who have physical or mental disabilities to let them move out of nursing homes to less-confining, less-expensive residential care.

“You end up spending a ton of money…in long-term care” that could be avoided, said Dave Bruns, communications manager for Florida AARP.

HHS said only that it would continue to work with the state in hopes of resolving any issues.

The federal law that originated the nursing-home release grant would allow Florida to get the money later in the year if state officials change their mind.