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May 11, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott appoints nine to hospital funding panel

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday named nine people to his newly created Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding.

None of the members are hospital executives. Only one is a medical doctor.

Missing from the list: Sens. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. 

Both volunteered to to serve.

Scott also announced that Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek and Surgeon General John Armstrong will serve as co-executive directors of the commission. The group's first meeting will take place in Tallahassee on May 20. 

The commission has been tasked with investigating outcomes at hospitals that receive taxpayer funding, as well as executive compensation and spending on lobbyists, advertising and political campaigns. The Republican governor also wants the group to explore the idea of profit sharing among hospitals.

Here are the names (and short bios) provided to reporters:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott appoints nine to hospital funding panel" »

Public hospitals in Broward brace for possible state budget cuts

via @dchangmiami

Broward County’s public hospitals have begun preparing for the potential loss of a combined $180 million a year in federal funds that help pay for the cost of care for the uninsured and for medical student training.

Gathering at the Broward Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale on Monday with county commissioners and Democratic state senators and representatives from local districts to sound alarm, administrators for Broward Health and Memorial Healthcare System said they are considering reductions to non-critical programs. The state Legislature has been unable to craft a budget so far this year, deadlocking over healthcare funding issues and creating big questions for public hospital budgets.

Nabil El Sanadi, a trauma surgeon and chief executive of Broward Health, which serves the northern portion of the county, said his hospital system stands to lose about $92 million a year, or roughly 10 percent of its annual budget, if state leaders and federal regulators cannot reach agreement on renewal of a $2.1 billion funding program known as the Low Income Pool or LIP.

“We’re going to keep our doors open,” El Sanadi said. “Patients will get 100 percent of the care they need, not 90 percent. … But we’re already starting the belt tightening.”

More here.

Florida Supreme Court throws out blind trust appeal

In an unanimous ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to review a lower court decision upholding the state's blind trust law.

The former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, Jim Apthrop, filed the appeal after the First District Court of Appeal rejected his lawsuit as "speculative," since no official was currently using the 2013 blind trust.

Apthorp wanted the court to throw out the state's blind trust law, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that public officials fully disclose their financial assets. He argued that the appeals court improperly sidestepped the question of whether the law was unconstitutional.

The law allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form. Apthorp alleges the Florida Legislature violated the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust.

The only public official to use the law is Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire former hospital chief executive. After the lawsuit was filed, however, Scott dissolved his blind trust and detailed his assets in his financial disclosure form filed in June when he announced his decision to seek re-election. He has since said he would re-establish the trust, thereby shielding his assets again for his second term.


Rick Scott's Mostly False claim about LIP and Medicaid

Washington may favor expanding Medicaid, Gov. Rick Scott argues, but it won’t help the people being served by the soon-to-expire Low Income Pool, called LIP.

Speaking to reporters, Scott said he doesn’t share the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ position that growing Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is a better solution than renewing the current LIP fund. The LIP program, which mostly helps cover hospital costs for uninsured and underinsured patient visits, is set to expire June 30.

"The families that are covered through the Low Income Pool is a different group of individuals than are covered by Obamacare," Scott said.

Given the context, we’re taking "Obamacare" to mean Medicaid expansion; we contacted Scott’s office, but they didn’t elaborate.

One of the chief arguments for Medicaid expansion is that it would cover uninsured Floridians, many of whom receive care at hospitals and clinics that then turn to the LIP program to offset costs. We decided to check if Scott was right about those being two different sets of potential patients.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found and here is our full file on fact-checks about Medicaid.

Bloomberg/Saint Anselm poll: Marco Rubio doing better, Jeb Bush doing worse in New Hampshire


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who announced his 2016 presidential bid last month, has more than doubled his popularity among New Hampshire Republican voters since February -- while Jeb Bush, whose candidacy is still unofficial, has lost some traction, according to a new poll.

The public-opinion survey by Bloomberg Politics and Saint Anselm College found Bush and Rubio tied with 11 percent. That represents a six-percentage point increase for Rubio and a five-point loss for Bush compared to the February poll. When matched up against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Bush and Rubio fare exactly the same: Clinton leads against both Republicans, 44-42 percent.

The two Floridians trail Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who are tied with 12 percent. Walker, like Bush, is not yet a formal candidate. The survey's error margin is 4.4 percentage points.

Our usual disclaimer: It's way too early to read too much into polls, so consider this just an interesting snapshot of the early presidential race.

Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature

This is a story about how to get things done in Tallahassee. Usually, it takes cash. Sometimes, it also takes a helicopter.

Last year, a South Florida water agency ran out of money for a program that pays ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee too fast, a practice known as water farming. A major agriculture corporation, Alico, asked the Legislature to instead use state taxpayer money to keep the project rolling.

Alico had a lot at stake in trying to prop up the water-farming project. If the project were revived by the Legislature, Alico would get the largest contract, worth more than $120 million over the next 11 years.

Before last year's session, Alico took key legislative leaders on a four-hour helicopter ride around Lake Okeechobee that cost about $5,000. On board for a Jan. 22, 2014 flight: state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

Also aboard: Clay Wilson, president of Alico, the nation's largest citrus producer, as well as a major player in cattle and sugar-growing. Wilson was there to show off his company's water-farming plan and explain to the legislators why it deserved an infusion of taxpayer money.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2014, Alico wrote a $15,000 check to Young's political action committee, the Florida Conservative Leadership Fund.

At the time, Young was the House majority whip. It was her job to tell Republican members of the House how to vote on certain issues. A rising star, Young now serves as House majority leader.

Another passenger on board the Alico copter tour that day in January 2014 was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Seth McKeel. As chairman, he wielded an outsize influence on what would go into the state budget and what would be left out.

Six days after the flight, Mc­Keel's PAC, the Florida Innovation Fund, got a check from Alico for $25,000.

Continue reading "Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature" »

May 10, 2015

President Obama calls Florida woman on Mother's Day

From the Associated Press:

ORMOND BEACH -- A Florida woman's letter to the White House prompted a Mother's Day greeting from President Barack Obama.

Touched by Obama's words in his State of the Union speech about his own mother, Patricia Church of Ormond Beach penned a note to the president.

On Wednesday, while at her customer service job, she got a stunning call.

"Hi, Patty? Hey, this is Barack Obama," it began. "No way!" she replied. "Way!" the president responded.

Fifty-year-old Church said the call lasted just a few minutes but felt like an eternity. She said Obama offered early Mother's Day wishes and commended her for raising four children on her own.

She told The Daytona Beach News-Journal the president said he understood her struggles because his own mother was a single parent.

Jeb Bush to Fox News: I would have authorized Iraq invasion


Jeb Bush would have given the go-ahead to the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, though intelligence leading up to the war was "faulty," the former Florida governor told Fox News.

"I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody," said Bush, a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate. "And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

Clinton, who's running for the Democratic nomination, has said her vote in the Senate authorizing the war was "wrong."

In a taped interview to air Monday night, Bush told Megyn Kelly that the mistake came when the U.S. failed to focus on "security" after the invasion.

He added that Iraq is not an area of foreign policy where there is a "big space" between himself and his brother, former President George W. Bush, whose authorized the Iraq invasion in 2003. Jeb Bush told political donors last week that his brother is one of his top advisers on U.S.-Israel policy.

Separately in the Fox interview, Bush defended his views on immigration, which some conservatives have criticized as too permissive. He supports a path to legal status for many people in the country illegally.

Bush seemed to poke at likely rival Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, who has backed away from a similar position.

"Here's the deal, Megyn: If I go beyond the consideration of running to be an actual candidate, do you want people to just bend with the wind, to mirror people's sentiment whoever is in front of you?" Bush said. "'Oh, yes, I used to be for that but now, I'm for this.' Is that the way we want to elect presidents?"

UPDATE: On Monday, the Democratic National Committee released a web video slamming Bush over his Iraq comment:


What might legislative middle ground look like? Some ideas

Florida legislators may have ended their stalemate last week when they agreed to convene a three-week special session to resolve the budget crisis in June, but they didn’t agree on the hard part: how to resolve stark differences over health care.

Some compromise ideas are emerging — from using $600 million intended for tax cuts to bail out hospitals that treat poor patients, to seeking a one-of-a-kind federal waiver, to drawing federal money without passing it through Medicaid.

But finding the middle ground won’t be easy because of the deep ideological divide between House and Senate Republicans over whether or not to expand Medicaid to draw down federal money to provide healthcare for more than 800,000 uninsured residents who must otherwise rely on charity care.

“Ideologies are going to have to be on the back burner and good public policy that satisfies both sides is going to have to prevail,’’ said Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican whose district has among the state’s highest number of uninsured. She is among a minority of House Republicans who support taking federal money if it’s tied to an aggressive health care reform plan that reduces costs.

The legislative session ended abruptly April 28 when the House adjourned in protest over the impasse.

Among the ideas emerging to bridge the divide: bypass Medicaid, bypass hospitals, seek a new federal waiver or just plug the hole and buy time.

More here.