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Senate panel approves both Medicaid expansion alternatives

Members of the Senate's health care budget committee approved two different Medaid expansion alternatives, saying they want to keep their options open as they attempt to compromise with House Republicans.

However, the panel's unanimous support of Sen. Joe Negron's proposal made it clear that Senate Republicans are willing to accept $51 billion in federal funds to insure 1 million poor Floridians even if the House isn't.

“As we see all the different proposals, I think this is truly the most responsible use of our taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Both Republican and Democrats praised Negron for coming up with a plan they said would improve the health of poor Floridians and boost the economy. Stakeholder groups also lined up to speak in favor of "NegronCare," including the Associated Industries of Florida, a conservative business organization.

Garcia and the panel's other Republicans also voted in favor of Sen. Aaron Bean's much different approach. As it became clear that Negron's plan had the votes to pass, Bean urged members to vote "yes" on both to help with negotiations with House Republicans, who have a plan similar to his.

“If you say 'no' now it may be killing the last little bit of hope" for compromise, Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said.

The committee's four Democrats disagreed and panned his SB 1844 as inadequate. “I think it falls far short of what we need in terms of coverage for the peope of Florida who need it," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned the wisdom of passing both plans on to the full budget committee. "It's like taking two dates to the prom," he said.

Bean's plan passed on a party-line vote.

Negron said he is willing to work with the House on a compromise that allows Floridians to choose either the insurance option in his plan or to receive subsidies to choose their own coverages as the House and Bean plans propose.

Bean's proposal would use $15 million in state funding in the first year to help 250,000 people, roughly half of those who are eligible. Negron's plan would use $1.2 billion in federal aid for the first year and another $20 million in state funding for administrative costs.