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Groups ask Scott to hold hearings on health benefits

A coalition of Affordable Care Act supporters is asking Gov. Rick Scott to hold hearings on the issue of which health benefits should be covered on all insurance policies to be offered as of 2014.

The federal government allows each state to design the minimum-benefit package, called "Essential Health Benefits," as long as such items as preventive care, childbirth and hospitalization are included.

In a letter released today, the groups say that if Florida continues to ignore the law, the federal government will determine which benefits citizens in the state will be able to choose when the coverage takes effect. States have only until Sept. 30 to make their wishes known.

"Florida has not directly addressed the Essential Health Benefits issue in any manner whatsoever," Florida CHAIN said in a press release.

 "It's unthinkable that this could all happen without any action ...on the part of the State, especially since state leaders ...have constantly (and unfairly) complained about federal overreach," said Greg Mellowe, research director for CHAIN, in an e-mail.  

At a recent meeting of the Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board, the group said, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty declined to even discuss the issue. He kicked the ball back to Scott, who has declined to take any action to implement the law he calls "ObamaCare."

The ACA, which President Obama signed into law in 2010, expands coverage to millions of uninsured Americans in 2014 by requiring that the voluntarily uninsured ("free riders") obtain coverage or pay a penalty,  offering subsidies to those who cannot afford a policy on their own, and expanding Medicaid to cover low-income adults who now don't qualify.

While upholding the law's constitutionality in its June ruling, the Supreme Court said each state could decide whether to participate in the expansion of Medicaid, a joint state-federal program that covers low-income children and pregnant women, frail elders in nursing homes, and the mentally and physically disabled.

Scott said that Florida will not participate. Even though the federal government is willing to pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017 and at least 90 percent thereafter, he said, the state cannot afford to spend any more on Medicaid. 

A former hospital executive who based his campaign largely on opposition to the health proposal, Scott has also declined to allow state agencies to participate in planning the health exchange, turning down millions of dollars in federal grants.

That means Florida will use whichever health exchange the federal government designs. It appears that the administration will also take the federal version of the benefits package.

The groups that sent the letter say they want Florida officials to hold hearings so that patients can voice their opinions on what should be covered. They worry that the insurance industry has too much sway over the list of essential benefits.

Among the groups that signed the letter are the Florida Pediatric Society, the Florida Physical Therapy Association, Elder Care Advocacy and Florida Consumer Action Network.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest.