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FL Democrats ask feds to deny state’s Medicaid waiver request

State House Democrats have asked the Obama administration to deny Florida's request to turn Medicaid over to managed-care companies.

In order to move virtually all Medicaid patients into HMOs or similar networks, as this year's Legislature voted to do, Florida must have permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because the program for the poor relies on billions of federal dollars.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration must complete the waiver request and get it to HHS by Aug. 1.

"The track record of Medicaid managed care and Medicaid HMOs in Florida is cause for very serious concern," said the letter to Cynthia Mann, Deputy Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at HHS.

The letter, dated today and released by the House minority office, also notes that every Democrat in both chambers of the state Legislature voted against final passage of the plan.

While the Medicaid privatization plan sailed through the Republican-led Legislature and was signed eagerly by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the plan's funding relies on acquiescence from a Democratic President.

Those who signed the letter were the "ranking members" -- most senior Democrats -- on several committees. They are Reps.:

--Mia Jones, Jacksonville, Health & Human Services Committee.

--Mark Pafford, West Palm Beach, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

--Steve Perman, Boca Raton, Health & Human Services Access Subcommittee.

--Elaine Schwartz, Hollywood, Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee.

They also called on CMS to end the Medicaid pilot project that led to the statewide plan. The pilot, a pet project of former Gov. Jeb Bush, has been under way since 2006 in Broward, Duval and three other counties.

A press release from the minority office noted that Rep. Jones is scheduled to visit CMS offices in Washington today to express her concerns with the Medicaid overhaul to federal officials in person.

No response was immediately available from the House Speaker's Office.

If federal health officials approve the waiver request, a year from now the state will invite HMOs and provider-service networks to take on the elderly and disabled Medicaid population, beginning in October 2013.

Other Medicaid patients — mostly healthy children and pregnant women — won't have to enter a managed care organization until 2014, although they can enroll sooner if they want. A majority of those Medicaid patients are already enrolled in managed-care plans.

Republicans said during the session that there were two drivers behind the overhaul: Controlling spending -- older and disabled adults are the most expensive -- and improving their access to care.

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