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August 24, 2015

State's hospital audits increase to 129

Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Agency for Health Care Administration to investigate nearly 100 more hospitals than initially announced for receiving more in Medicaid payments than is legally allowed.

In a letter asking Attorney General Pam Bondi for the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit's support, Scott lists 129 hospitals that are being audited. Twenty-nine of them did not respond on-time to a request for information about Medicaid contracts. The remainder "warrant an audit to verify compliance with state law because of the nature of the explanations they provided in their responses," the letter says.

Scott and AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek asked hospitals and insurance plans for details of their contracts, concerned that they violated state-mandated maximum costs.

Audits were announced earlier this month for 31 hospitals. The new list, four times as long as the original, was made after AHCA did initial reviews of information submitted by hospitals.

Although many hospitals responded on time, AHCA is verifying the information some of those hospitals provided.

Several of the hospitals being audited are part of HCA, the company Scott ran as CEO, which paid out one of the largest Medicaid fraud settlements in U.S. history.

For third time, Gov. Scott appoints Spottswood to statewide board

The third time was the charm for Robert Spottswood.

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the Keys real estate developer, a sixth-generation Floridian, to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He'll replace board chairman Richard Corbett, a Tampa real estate investor who submitted his resignation last week.

Scott's appointment of Spottswood is effective Sept. 2. The governor also appointed Spottswood to the 3rd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission in 2013 and to Scott's Commission on Healthcare and Hospitals last May.

Spottswood and his company gave $13,000 to Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee in the 2014 campaign, and he gave an additional $3,000 to Scott's re-election campaign.

Corbett had an unusually long tenure on the FWC board. He was first appointed in 2003 and was named chairman in 2013 after Scott appointed him to a third consecutive five-year term. He gave no reason for his resignation, which is effective Sept. 1.

Scott also appointed Spottswood's wife Elena to the Florida Keys Community College Board of Trustees.

Happy Birthday to PolitiFact!

Eight years ago this week, we launched a new website for accountability journalism that we called PolitiFact.

A project of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, PolitiFact debuted to fact-check the 2007 primary field. Back then, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards led the Democratic field, while Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain were the most popular Republicans. Our reports proved popular; eight years later, we’re still fact-checking.

A lot has changed in those years. We have seven, soon to be eight, state-based fact-checking sites, and we launched PunditFact to fact-check the talking heads in 2013.

What’s stayed the same? Our independence and our in-depth reporting. Our primary purpose is to give voters the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.

In honor of PolitiFact turning eight, here are the eight most popular reports we’ve published in the past year. We’re counting them down to the most popular.

Turn to Angie Drobnic Holan's story from PolitiFact.

State senators try to salvage Florida's congressional redistricting


The Florida Legislature’s special session on redistricting ended in failure, but that is not stopping a pair of senators from taking one more shot at redrawing the state’s 27 Congressional districts.

Florida Sens Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Nancy Detert, R-Venice, late Friday filed a new redistricting plan, even though there is no clear mechanism to take up or vote on the plan. The Legislature’s special session ended on Friday when the House and Senate could not agree to a plan to redraw the state’s Congressional districts. But Detert and Bradley are hoping their new offer could serve as a compromise that could win support if the Legislature does end up back in session to deal with the unfinished business.

 “We haven’t given up,” Detert said.

Detert said their plan takes part of the House’s final offer and combines it with her original idea to put all of Sarasota County whole in one congressional district without making any dramatic changes to Hillsborough County as the Senate previously was demanding.

Gone from Detert’s proposal was an idea pushed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, that would have put all of eastern Hillsborough into the 15th Congressional District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. Lee’s proposal was opposed by the Florida House last week.

Continue reading "State senators try to salvage Florida's congressional redistricting" »

Gov. Scott on late-summer vacation in cooler Colorado

Imagine fleeing Tallahassee in late August when the "real feel" is a balmy 99 degrees! Gov. Rick Scott will spend most of this week on a family vacation in Colorado, the governor's office said Monday. Scott, First Lady Ann Scott, their two daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren took a leisurely family trip to France earlier in the month. 

Had the Legislature approved a congressional redistricting map, Scott would have been required to review it, sign it or veto it. But that didn't happen and the Scotts all headed west. Two years ago, Scott sent "one-way" letters to a number of Colorado business leaders, trying to convince them to leave the Rocky Mountain State and relocate to Florida. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat.

Jeb Bush relishes being remembered as the hurricane governor

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He stands in a bunker, wearing no jacket and no tie, warning Floridians to board up their homes, heed evacuation orders and stock 72 hours’ worth of food and water. Above him, a radar screen shows a menacing mess of winds and clouds swirling offshore.

This is the enduring image of Jeb Bush, hurricane governor.

Nine hurricanes slammed into Florida during Bush’s time in office, eight of them in a dizzying, 14-month span in 2004-05 — a record-breaking number that defined Bush as a steady executive in the face of disaster, the kind of leader he’d like to portray to the rest of the country now that he’s running for president and struggling to impress Republican voters.

“I believe it’s important to have leaders that actually roll up their sleeves and solve problems,” Bush said Friday in Ohio. “How would you liked to have been governor of a state that had eight hurricanes and four tropical storms, $100 billion of insured losses and billions of dollars of uninsured losses over 17 months? For me, it was the greatest joy of service that I could ever imagine....

“That’s when we show what kind of leaders we are.”

Bush will commemorate the storms at a town hall-style campaign event Wednesday in Pensacola. Even Floridians may need reminding of the storms Bush weathered: A Quinnipiac University poll published last week showed Bush trailing Donald Trump in Bush’s home state.

Bush’s ability to take charge in an emergency remains undisputed even among his critics, who note he left the Governor’s Mansion 15 months after the last storm with a high, 64-percent approval rating.

“His popularity with Floridians is probably tethered to those moments probably more than any policy,” said Democrat Dan Gelber, a former Miami Beach state senator.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Lewis orders redistricting scheduling conference but questions loom

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Monday ordered a scheduling conference for Tuesday after 3 p.m. to receive updates on the status of the congressional redistricting plan that lawmakers failed to complete last week. But the question of the day is: what options does he have?

Lawmakers assumed they were handing over the job of redrawing the districts to the court when they adjourned their two-week special session Friday without finalizing a congressional map. But lawyers for the plaintiffs that brought the legal challenge -- the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a coalition of Democratic voters -- say they are not sure it will be Lewis who will be drawing the maps. 

"The court relinquished the case to the trial court for 100 days to review the Legislature's map and only review the map,'' said Mark Herron, a lawyer for the voters coalition that challenged the congressional redistricting maps. With lawmakers failing to produce a final map, "we're in outside territory now."

Will Lewis order lawmakers to return to complete a map or will he conclude they have irreconcilable differences and mediate the situation himself? If he does decide to mediate and accept alternative maps, will the House and Senate be allowed to offer different options or will they be required to work in tandem? 

Here's what the court said in its order:

Continue reading "Lewis orders redistricting scheduling conference but questions loom " »

Will Debbie Wasserman Schultz support or oppose Iran deal?

With a new poll showing Florida voters are against the Iran deal, that adds to the pressure for a decision about the deal by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

Wasserman Schultz, who is also the Democratic National Committee chair, hasn’t commented on her position yet.

“The Congresswoman is continuing her meetings with constituents, Administration officials and experts as she reviews the deal,” her spokesman Geoff Burgan said today. “Since those meetings are still ongoing, she has not made a decision.”

The Quinnipiac poll found that Florida respondents oppose the Iran agreement by 61-25 percent but support sending U.S. ground troops to fight the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

The Iran deal is a hot topic for voters in Wasserman Schultz's Broward to Miami Beach district -- an area that includes a high proportion of Jews.

About 15 percent of the people who live in Wasserman Schultz’s Broward to Miami Beach district are Jewish, according to University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin. (The actual number of residents in her district who vote could be higher since data from the American National Election Study in 2008 suggest that Jews vote at a higher rate than other groups.)

Continue reading "Will Debbie Wasserman Schultz support or oppose Iran deal?" »

Florida lawmakers featured in anti-Medicaid expansion ads

Several Tampa Bay area legislators are among those featured prominently in a new TV and digital ad by Americans for Prosperity, "thanking" them for blocking Medicaid expansion during the 2015 session.

AFP, a conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, says in a release that "the two-week long TV effort will feature TV, digital and mail to educate Floridians about the 72 legislators who stood up for taxpayers and patients against special interests who pushed to bring Obama’s Medicaid expansion to the Sunshine State."

AFP says five different versions of its 30-second ads are airing across Florida, including the one below.

Quinnipiac poll: Most Florida voters oppose Iran deal


A new poll shows President Barack Obama remains unpopular in Florida -- as does his nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama's job approval rating is upside down 41-56 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University poll released Monday. Respondents oppose the Iran agreement by 61-25 percent but support sending U.S. ground troops to fight the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

The president's proposed federal rules to reduce pollution from coal-burning plants -- not a big issue in Florida -- won support of 69-25 percent in the poll. The survey's error margin was 3 percentage points.

Quinnipiac also polled in two other swing states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and found that in all three places, voters oppose efforts by Republicans in Congress to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

They also support a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally (for Florida, that support was at 53 percent, with 12 percent supporting no path to citizenship and 31 percent saying the immigrants should be forced to leave).