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September 24, 2015

Group rates Florida’s Medicaid HMOs average, but state lauds quality of care


Most of the private companies managing Florida’s Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people ranked at the national average on patient satisfaction, preventive care and medical treatment in 2014, according to a recently released comparative rating of plans.

But the ratings excluded six of the 13 private insurers in Florida’s Medicaid program during 2014 because those health plans either failed to report data or submitted insufficient information to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a nonprofit that rates and accredits health plans.

The NCQA’s seal is considered the gold standard for measuring health plan performance. Yet of the six Medicaid insurers not ranked for 2014, five lacked full accreditation from the organization.

This year, only two of those unranked insurers are still doing business with Florida’s Medicaid program: Prestige Health Choice and Simply Healthcare Plans, both of which offer coverage in Miami-Dade. The other four plans were either sold or dropped out.

And of those Florida Medicaid insurers that were rated by the NCQA, none scored higher than 3.5 out of 5 possible points, reflecting average performance.

But the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration doesn’t see it that way. Instead, the agency trumpeted a separate set of data this week as evidence that the state’s transition to a mostly private model for Medicaid is improving health outcomes and increasing access for the estimated 3 million Floridians in the system.

More here.

Quinnipiac poll: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio trail Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina


The rise of the political outsiders continues in the latest national poll by Quinnipiac University, which shows real-estate tycoon Donald Trump still leading the 2016 Republican presidential field, ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Florina.

Here's how they polled: Trump at 25 percent, Carson at 17 percent and Florina at 12 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 9 percent. No other candidate topped 7 percent.

Among Republican poll respondents, though, 29 percent said they "would definitely not support" Trump. And in hypothetical general election match-ups, Carson did best against Democrats.

On the Democratic side, it was Vice President Joe Biden -- who's not running at this point -- who fared best against Republicans. Among primary voters, however, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the pack with 43 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 25 percent and Biden with 18 percent.

"The cast of characters changes by the week, with Ben Carson and Carly Florina in the spotlight and Gov. Jeb Bush still waiting for his big break. And Donald Trump still in the lead role," Tim Malloy, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement.

"But when the number of Republicans who 'would definitely not support' you is greater than the number who support you, where does that leave you? Welcome to Trump World, comparing his fragile support form his own party to Hillary Clinton's sagging but still stronger support from her party."

Rubio remains better-liked -- though also less known -- than Bush. Thirty-eight percent of respondents have a favorable view of Rubio, 28 percent an unfavorable one and 33 percent haven't heard enough about him. By comparison, 44 percent have an unfavorable view of Bush, 38 percent a favorable one and 17 percent haven't heard enough.

September 23, 2015

A bowling alley, a car sale and the thorny politics of Homestead

via @MoniqueOMadan

When the operator of Dadeland Dodge needed some political muscle to get a deal on 4.6 acres of taxpayer-owned property pushed through the Homestead City Council, he found a staunch ally in Jimmie L. Williams III

Williams, a bespectacled councilman and church pastor who sports trademark bow ties and — records suggest — may not live in the city he represents, became a fierce advocate of Jay Rivchin’s proposal to build a Hyundai dealership on the site of a forlorn, long-shuttered bowling alley on U.S. 1. He worked tirelessly from the dais — and, it turns out, secretly behind the scenes — to ensure the public land sale went through without a hitch.

Williams fended off council colleagues who wanted to hold out for a higher price for the property — a spooky, boarded-up building replete with skittering rats, multicolored shoes and ghostly bowling balls on rusty racks. He pushed for eliminating taxpayer protections, including a provision that would penalize the dealer $250 a day if he didn't meet construction deadlines. Quietly, using his city-issued mobile device, Williams engaged Rivchin in more than 400 interactions (18 hours of talk-time), including one in which the car dealer pressed Williams to get the reluctant city manager to hurry things up.

Once, they even conferred while the council was still in session. Williams excused himself from the meeting, saying he needed to go watch the TV show Empire, a comment that drew chuckles from the audience. Instead, he phoned Rivchin, who had been in the audience. They talked for 10 minutes, according to public records obtained by the Herald.

When it was over — the saga ended with a a 5-2 vote confirming the Hyundai deal for $2.3 million — Williams quickly resumed talks with Rivchin, only this time they involved his god-daughter’s desire to acquire a car. That deal was consummated days later.

Williams, 36, says he did nothing wrong, just introduced a young woman looking to buy a car to someone who sells them.

More here.

Candidate with city contract asks Miami Beach to find new vendor


Ricky Arriola, left, and Mark Weithorn are running for the Group 5 commission seat in Miami Beach.


In the race for the Group 5 seat on Miami Beach's City Commission, candidate and current city vendor Ricky Arriola wants the city to find a new firm to handle customer service calls to the building department so he can avoid a conflict of interest if he wins.

But because the city won’t put the contract out to bid until after the election, Arriola would have to recuse himself from votes on the matter until the contract expires in April.

More here.

Transit union embraces Miami-Dade commissioner after DUI arrest


Calling his DUI arrest in Key West a "bump in the road," Miami-Dade's transit union sent a warm letter to Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz this week.

"This Key west 'bump in the road,' no matter how anyone attempts to frame it, in no way diminishes your impressive accomplishments over the years or reflects in any way on your continuing desire and determination to better the lives of the citizenry you have always represented with great honor and dignity," Clarence Washington, president of the local chapter of the AFL-CIO's Transport Workers Union, wrote Tuesday.

On Saturday, Diaz was pulled over for going 74 mph in a 30-mph-zone on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle near mile marker one. He declined to have his breath analyzed for alcohol, but police said he failed sobriety tests. He was cuffed and spent the night in jail, and on Monday proclaimed himself "extremely sorry" without specifying what he had done wrong.

On recent close votes involving union contracts, Diaz joined the pro-labor bloc on the 13-member commission. Unions also helped back his 2014 reelection to another four-year term. 

In his letter, Washington wrote he was "very disturbed" to learn of the incident, which he called a "very personal and very private matter." 

Continue reading "Transit union embraces Miami-Dade commissioner after DUI arrest" »

FEMA rejects Scott's appeal for federal disaster declaration

For the second time in a month, the federal government has rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s plea for a disaster declaration for flooding that swamped the Tampa Bay region in late July and early August.

Scott was already turned down for a disaster declaration on Sept. 3, but appealed the decision a week later to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator W. Craig Fugate, who advises President Barack Obama on disaster declarations. However, what Scott got back on Wednesday was the same answer he received earlier: no.

“After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the damage from this event is not of such severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration,” Fugate said in a letter sent to Scott on Wednesday.

In denying Scott's initial request made to Obama, Fugate had told Scott that the storms and subsequent flooding that blasted the region from July 25 to Aug. 3 were not of such severity and magnitude that state and local government officials could not cover the damage on their own.

Continue reading "FEMA rejects Scott's appeal for federal disaster declaration" »

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week


Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."


Gov. Rick Scott meets with Papa John's CEO during Kentucky visit



"Papa John" himself had one hour of face time with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott earlier today in Louisville, Ky., during the second day of Scott's two-day jobs trip to the Bluegrass State.

Scott's office released a revised itinerary for the governor after noon, specifying that Scott's previously advertised "business development meeting" at 11 a.m. was actually with John Schnatter, CEO and founder of the Papa John's pizza chain.

(Scott has two other vaguely described meetings on his schedule today, but no word yet on who those were with.)

Does this mean Schatter is delivering more jobs to Florida? Unclear.

Scott tweeted shortly after, commenting on a "great" visit and that he hopes Papa John's "continues their success in our state."

Scott is in Kentucky this week on an economic development trip to recruit jobs and business to Florida. Yesterday, he boasted about 40 new jobs that an aerospace company, 1st Source Aerospace, announced months ago were coming to its secondary location in Miramar. More on that here.

Schnatter, a Louisville resident, owns a condo near Naples in Collier County, where Scott also lives.

Photo credit: Reuters