May 05, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott to meet with top HHS official

Republican Gov. Rick Scott will meet with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Wednesday to discuss the future of an important hospital funding program, his office said.

Uncertainty over the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool, which reimburses safety-net hospitals and county health departments for uncompensated care, has paralyzed state lawmakers tasked with building the state budget.

The program is scheduled to end June 30, unless the federal government approves a proposed successor program.

"I look forward to meeting with HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell tomorrow to discuss the importance of funding the federal Low Income Pool program in Florida," Scott said in a statement. "We hope HHS will reconsider LIP funding in Florida, and it's critical for us to get that information immediately so the Legislature can construct a budget that best meets the needs of low income families during a special session."

Will the feds welcome Scott with open arms? Maybe not.

Last week, the governor filed a lawsuit accusing Burwell's agency of trying to coerce Florida into expanding Medicaid by threatening to cut off LIP funding. Kansas and Texas joined the legal challenge Monday.

And don't forget about the Scott Administration's bizarre back and forth with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In early April, Scott's top healthcare administrator sent out a press release saying CMS had suddenly suspended the negotiations over LIP. But federal health care officials essentially said the release was untrue. 

May 04, 2015

Kansas, Texas to support Gov. Rick Scott's lawsuit against the feds

ScottKansas and Texas are joining in Gov. Rick Scott's lawsuit against the federal government over health care funding, Scott's office announced Monday.

The legal challenge alleges that federal health officials are trying to coerce Florida into expanding Medicaid by threatening to end the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program, which reimburses hospitals for uncompensated care.

Scott has said the two health care issues should be kept separate.

His lawsuit will now have the support of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, both of whom are Republicans.

"I am glad Kansas and Texas are joining our fight against the Obama Administration for attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare expansion by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead," Scott said in a statement. "The U.S. Supreme Court has already called this sort of coercion tactic illegal. Making sure all of our families have access to affordable, high quality health care is incredibly important and we will continue to fight to protect the health care of all of our families."

Kansas and Texas are in a similar situation when it comes to healthcare funding.

The Republican-led Legislatures in both states have rejected federal Medicaid expansion money. But each receives supplemental federal funding for hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients. The program in Texas is scheduled to end in September 2016. The program in Kansas runs through 2017.

In a statement, Brownback characterized the Florida lawsuit as an "effort to stop the Obama administration from cutting off health care dollars for the Low Income Pool in an effort to force Obamacare upon the states."

"In joining with Florida and Texas, Kansas is protecting the states' right to make their own determinations about these issues," he said.

Gov. Rick Scott reappoints 14 agency heads; 2 others in limbo

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday reappointed the heads of 14 state agencies after the Senate adjourned sine die without confirming any of them, and the status of two others was not immediately clear.

Scott's office issued a statement announcing the reappointments of state technology officer Jason Allison; surgeon general John Armstrong; transportation secretary James Boxold; children and families secretary Mike Carroll; juvenile justice secretary Christy Daly; AHCA secretary Liz Dudek; Secretary of State Ken Detzner; corrections secretary Julie Jones; business and professional regulation secretary Ken Lawson; lottery secretary Cynthia O'Connell; director Barbara Palmer of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities; employment opportunity secretary Jesse Panuccio; management services director Barbara Palmer; and elder affairs secretary Samuel Verghese.

Two other agency heads were not reappointed Monday and both require approval of the Cabinet as well. They are Jon Steverson, executive director of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Rick Swearingen, executive director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

By law, a gubernatorial appointee who is not confirmed by the Senate must be reappointed within 45 days of the end of the session. The only scheduled Cabinet meeting within that 45-day window is set for Tuesday.

May 03, 2015

Legislative gridlock, dissension and uncertainty: Will it matter for GOP?

@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

The Florida House quit early. Senate Democrats sued. The state still has no budget, and no one has figured out a compromise on how to pay for healthcare.

But last week’s legislative meltdown in Tallahassee, dramatic and dysfunctional as it was, doesn’t appear to threaten the political future of Republicans who control both chambers of state government — or of anyone else in their party running for office in 2016.

Most GOP state lawmakers remain in safe, conservative-leaning districts. Democrats have only a thin bench to challenge the ones who don’t. And there’s little indication that many Floridians are aware that their state Legislature, an institution followed far less closely than Congress, is gridlocked.

“I always use my parents, who live in Orlando, as a measure — and it’s fair to say the average Floridian isn’t paying a lot of attention compared to the rest of us living in the bubble of Tallahassee,” said David Hart, executive president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A rundown of what happened: The House adjourned three days early, which was historically unprecedented, to protest a budget impasse and reject Senate demands to discuss Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Senate, united in rare bipartisan accord,stayed in town, passing bills to the empty chamber across the hall and accusing the House of violating the state constitution with its early exit on Tuesday.

Senate Democrats sued the House, asking the court Thursday to bring representatives back to finish their work. On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the House had violated the state constitution — but, with the midnight deadline of the regular session approaching, it was too late to call anyone back to Tallahassee.

Will any of it matter?

“I think there will be very little political fallout,” said Steve Vancore, a Democratic political consultant and pollster.

More here.

May 01, 2015

Seminole Tribe urges governor and Legislature to resume compact talks

Frustrated by the lack of progress over talks to renew their gaming compact with the state, the Seminole Tribe of Florida sent a letter Friday to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature urging them to resume negotiations to allow them the exclusive right to operate black jack and other card games in exchange for payments to Florida.

"The certainty provided by a multi-year agreement to renew the banked card games would allow the Tribe to move forward with plans to invest over $1.6 billion in capital improvements and hire thousands of new employees,'' the Tribe said in a statement accompanying the letter. "The State would further benefit by receiving billions of dollars in exclusivity payments from the Tribe over the term of the new agreement."  

The Tribe wants to renew the portion of the gaming compact that expires on July 31 that allows them to offer banked card games at five of its seven casinos. Legislative leaders had been in negotiations as recently as last week with tribal lawyers, but those talks ended when the House abruptly adjourned in the face of a budget impasse and left town three days early.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, one of the Senate negotiators, said last week that the two sides had "made some progress." 

On Friday, a majority of the Senate remained in Tallahassee, awaiting word on a lawsuit brought against the House by Senate Democrats. 

“The Tribe remains hopeful that negotiations can commence soon to reach an agreement that will result in favorable action during a special session of the Florida Legislature,'' the  Seminole statement said.

"By letter delivered today to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, the Tribe has formally renewed its request for negotiations in accordance with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires the State to negotiate with the Tribe in good faith and provides the Tribe with certain remedies if no agreement is reached within 180 days.”

Here's the letter.

April 30, 2015

California judge orders Google to turn over data on Gov. Scott's G-mail account

Rick Scott 2014In a major defeat for Gov. Rick Scott, a California judge on Thursday ordered Google to turn over the computer IP addresses for all correspondence to and form the governor’s private G-mail account since Jan. 15, 2011, and the accounts of two of his staff. 

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Arand ruled that the governor’s attempt to quash a request by Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews to Google to withhold the information was not valid.

"The subscriber information and IP addresses will assist Andrews in determining whether a public official created the accounts, which, in turn, could establish that official agency business may have been transacted from those accounts,'' Arand wrote in a four-page ruling filed on the court's website. 

Andrews wants the computer company to give him the subscriber identities and IP addresses to help him prove his claim that the governor attempted to use the account to shield his communications from the state’s public records laws. When the governor refused to turn over the information about the accounts last year, Andrews persuaded a Tallahassee court to approve a subpoena to seek the information from Google. Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Francis also ordered the governor to stop fighting the request.

Continue reading "California judge orders Google to turn over data on Gov. Scott's G-mail account" »

Gov. Scott says he'll work 'immediately' with Legislature on budget

Gov. Rick Scott has not been visible this week as the legislative session collapsed amid round after round of insults and threats of a lawsuit between his fellow Republicans.

Scott's Thursday schedule showed "no scheduled events" and Scott's press office did not respond to two requests to identify where he is. But Scott's office issued this news release in which Scott said he will begin working immediately with the Senate and House on a budget that will continue "critical programs."

Scott's statement does say that any conversation on changes to health care policy should involve "thoughtful debate" -- which is what the Florida Senate has been seeking from the House for weeks.

The full text of Scott's statement:

Now that the Florida Senate and House have adjourned, we must immediately turn our focus to how we can work together to craft a state budget before July 1st that continues funding for critical state services. There were no discussions about Medicaid expansion under Obamacare before the legislative session began. Today, it is clear that a thorough analysis of how healthcare can be reformed to improve cost, quality and access is needed, apart from the budget process.

Our previous state Medicaid reform efforts took months of thoughtful debate in order to not only develop the best policy with the most flexibility for our citizens, but to ensure we designed something that the federal government would ultimately approve. Any conversation on new healthcare or Medicaid reforms should be similarly deliberated.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott says he'll work 'immediately' with Legislature on budget" »

April 28, 2015

As the House adjourns early over Medicaid battle, we look at claims on the Truth-O-Meter

A battle over Medicaid expansion led the Florida House to adjourn the session three days early on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of bills dead for now including $690 million in tax cuts, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the House will return when the Senate was ready to negotiate their budget differences but it was unclear when that would occur. They will have to come back in a special session to complete the state budget by the June 30 deadline.

Crisafulli echoed Senate budget chief Tom Lee who said Monday: "There's no possible hope for getting done at this time."

The Senate agreed to remain in session, sending bills symbolically to the House where they will die.

The House opposed the expansion of the health care program for the poor while the Senate advocated for a version of it, creating a major rift between the two GOP-dominated chambers. Scott, once a supporter of Medicaid expansion, opposed it this session and threatened to sue the federal government over it. (He officially announced that he filed the suit Tuesday afternoon.)

The federal government is offering billions if Florida expands Medicaid, paying 100 percent of the expansion at first and gradually downshifting to 90 percent in later years. The program currently eats up a sizable portion of the state budget.

While there was a long list of hot issues this session -- including whether to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools and a proposal for online voter registration -- in the end the feud over Medicaid was what brought the Legislature screeching to a halt.

Here’s a look back at some of our claims related to Medicaid expansion from PolitiFact Florida.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott files lawsuit against feds over hospital funding


Gov. Rick Scott followed through Tuesday on his promised lawsuit against the federal government over its threat to withhold hospital charity-care funding if Florida doesn't expand Medicaid. 

His office announced the filing shortly after the Florida House of Representatives adjourned its legislative session ahead of schedule, amid its budget stalemate with the Senate over healthcare. Scott declared his intent to sue 11 days ago.

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Sylvia Burwell, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and its acting administrator, Andy Slavitt. View it here.

"President Obama's sudden end to the Low Income Pool (LIP) healthcare program to leverage us for Obamacare is illegal and a blatant overreach of executive power," Scott said in a statement. "His administration is effectively attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. This sort of coercion tactic has already been called illegal by the US Supreme Court."

April 24, 2015

PolitiFact looks at one of Rick Scott's environmental promises

As part of his environmental agenda during his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would "issue an executive order to provide a foundation for bringing together stakeholders to plan with his administration for additional needed actions."

We'll note that he didn't promise to create a foundation as in an organization -- he put that promise under the header "executive order to protect water quality" in his environmental campaign plan.

We how PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress and here is our entire Scott-O-Meter.