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It's Official: House Turns Down $$

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

By a 71 to 45 vote, the Florida House of Representatives on Friday passed its own health plan, which relies on state money and bypasses more than $50 billion in federal funds. The vote, as expected, fell almost entirely along party lines.

Democrats all voted against the plan, according to the House web site. All except two Republicans -- Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and John Tobia of Melbourne Beach -- voted for it.

The plan, called Florida Health Choices Plus, is supposed to cover about 115,000 people who have incomes at or below the federal poverty level. But the plan leaves out most of the uninsured in that income group; only disabled adults and parents of children 18 and younger would qualify.

They would pay $25 a month in premiums to receive about $167 a month in state revenue that would go into a savings account. They would then shop for coverage on an online marketplace operated by a non-profit organization.

The cost to the state budget was estimated at $237 million. Opponents of the plan said that amounts to double taxation, since federal funds are already available to help the uninsured. But supporters of the plan said it would be wrong to take funds from Washington at a time when there is a federal deficit.

The plan was developed by state Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who served as chairman of the Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill (HB 7169) was sponsored by state Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park.

Friday's vote was foreshadowed by Thursday's rejection of an amendment sponsored by Fasano.  He tried unsuccessfully to strike the content of the bill and substitute the Senate plan, Healthy Florida.

Fasano has argued in the past that the House plan sounds good but the math doesn't add up.The only plans available for  under $200 a month -- the amount in the savings accounts -- would be high-deductible plans that low-income people who qualify for the plan could not afford.

Or they would be non-insurance products such as discount cards, which leave the buyer vulnerable in case of a serious illness, he said.

The Senate plan he favors would take the federal funds and expand coverage to an estimated 1.1 million Floridians. It would include groups left out of the House plan, such as childless adults and middle-aged parents whose children are grown and gone.

The Senate's Healthy Florida plan, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is supported by Gov. Rick Scott, an apparent majority of Senate Republicans, all Democrats, hospitals, large employers and advocates for the uninsured.

On Thursday, in more than five hours of debate -- a record for an amendment, Cummings said -- Fasano pleaded with his Republican colleagues to go along with the Senate's "bipartisan" plan.

(more to come)

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.