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April 14, 2015

Tension mounts in Tallahassee over Medicaid expansion, hospital funding

Federal health officials turned up the pressure on Florida Tuesday, saying the future of $1.3 billion in federal funding for hospitals that treat low-income patients is tied to whether the Legislature expands Medicaid.

In a letter to Florida’s Medicaid director, a top federal official wrote that the federal government is willing to consider the state’s request to keep the so-called Low Income Pool (LIP) in place after the program ends in June. But U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Director Vikki Wachino noted "the state's expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP program."

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the correspondence highlighted "the need to consider a comprehensive Florida solution."

"Time is of the essence,” he said. "The Senate remains open to meeting at any time to discuss our free-market approach to expansion or any alternative the House or governor would like to propose."

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a leading opponent of Medicaid expansion, said LIP and expansion should not be linked, and blasted the federal government for holding Florida hostage.

"It is unthinkable that they would leave our state on the hook for over a billion dollars simply because they want a specific policy outcome," said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a terse statement.

The letter and reaction from House and Senate leaders is only the latest salvo in a nasty feud between Washington and Tallahassee about LIP and Medicaid expansion — two issues that have all but paralyzed lawmakers with only weeks remaining in the 60-day session.

More here.

South Florida doctor already facing corruption charges with Bob Menendez also accused of Medicare fraud

via @jayhweaver

Charged just weeks ago in a political corruption case with a U.S. senator, West Palm Beach eye doctor Salomon Melgen was arrested late Tuesday on new Medicare fraud offenses involving more than $190 million in billing to the taxpayer-funded program.

Melgen, recognized as one of Medicare’s top billers in the nation, collected more than $105 million in reimbursements based on substantial “fraudulent” claims for eye injections and other treatments between 2008 and 2013, according to an indictment.

Melgen, 61, was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this month when he was charged along with his close friend, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, with conspiring in an alleged graft scheme entailing close to $1 million in gifts, trips and donations in return for official favors. Among them: the senator’s intervening on Melgen’s behalf to resolve longstanding Medicare billing disputes.

Melgen, charged with 46 counts of healthcare fraud, 19 counts of filing false claims and 11 counts of making false statements, will have his first appearance in federal court in West Palm Beach on Wednesday.

More here.

Key legislator wants prison inspector general fired

Jeffery BeasleyA House committee took aim at the state’s chief prison inspector Tuesday, first accusing Jeffery Beasley of failing to properly investigate suspicious inmate deaths, then approving a plan to make it easier for the Department of Correction’s secretary to fire him and his staff.

"We have inmates that are being scalded to death in Miami Dade County; inmates that are being pepper-sprayed and murdered, and nothing is being done about it,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, referring to a series of reports in the Miami Herald, at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. "Ask yourself, why is this happening?"

But DOC Secretary Julie Jones, who has been defending Beasley for months, continued to support her top investigator but acknowledged he should leave the job.

"Given the perception of all of the issues associated with the IGs office, I agree we need to make a change ultimately in leadership and structure in the IGs office,’’ she told the Herald/Times.

The mission of the inspector general’s office is to "protect and promote public integrity" and root out corruption in the department that has been buffeted by investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the statewide prosecutor, the FBI, and the recent arrest of two current corrections officers for allegedly planning the murder of a former inmate.

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They agree on this: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio want Cuba to remain on terror list


President Obama's decision Tuesday to no longer consider Cuba a terrorist nation prompted sharp rebukes from newly declared Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio and one of his likely rivals, Jeb Bush.

For Rubio, it was an opportunity to receive even more public attention a day after his campaign launch. For Bush, it's a chance to show off his savvy on Cuba and Latin America, honed from years of experience living in Miami and being the governor of Florida.

Of note: A version of Rubio's statement translated into Spanish differed slightly from his video statement in English. He did not say in English that Cuba harbors Medicare fraudsters -- but did point that out in Spanish. 




President Obama embraced Cuba’s oppressive dictator, Raul Castro by removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and consummating the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with the Communist police state. Coupled with this policy of accommodation with Cuba is the Administration’s failure to respond sooner and more forcefully to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, where the policies of late dictator Hugo Chavez and his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro continue to hurt their people. Beyond denying their citizens the basic freedoms all humans deserve, the Castro and Maduro regimes continue to engage in activities abroad that undermine stability in this pivotal region.

While I am concerned about the continuing assault on human rights and democracy in Latin America, I am encouraged by the signers of the ‘Declaration of Panama’ – Latin American democracies committed to expanding freedom and opportunity throughout this region. These brave defenders of liberty and democracy are the natural allies of the United States. Rather than breathing new life into corrupt regimes, the United States should stand with these leaders, and on the side of the Venezuelan and Cuban people who have for too long been denied the fundamental freedoms they so deserve.

Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change


The trio of Miami Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- were quick to denounce the White House's decision Tuesday to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has 45 days to block the action, if it can find enough support -- a veto-proof majority -- to do so, which seems unlikely.

Here are statements from the three representatives:

Continue reading "Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change" »

Back in Washington, Rubio pushes international issues and protections for Israel


In his first day back in Washington after announcing his run for the presidency, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio waded in on international issues dealing with Iran, Israel and Cuba, pushing back against actions the administration has taken.

In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio joined with his colleagues in passing a bill that demands Congress have a say in the oversight of the nuclear deal the White House is negotiating with Iran.

The committee, which also includes presidential competitor Rand Paul, R-Ky., unanimously approved the bill, which now goes to the full Senate.

Rubio, a Republican from West Miami who on Monday announced his run for the presidency, went along with his colleagues and mostly remained out of the discussion. He did, however, say the Senate should push harder to protect Israel from Iran and its leaders.

While the committee's task drafting the bill was difficult, Rubio said there were bigger issues at play.

“I’m even more concerned about not simply destroying the delicate balance of this bill – I’m concerned about the destruction of Israel,” he said. “And I’ll tell you why I’m concerned about the destruction of Israel.”

He went on to recite several belligerent statements or tweets made by Iranian leaders toward Israel.

Said Rubio: “I think at some point when somebody keeps saying they want to destroy you, you should take them seriously.”

Continue reading "Back in Washington, Rubio pushes international issues and protections for Israel" »

Rick Scott's inviting GOP presidential contenders to Orlando

via @adamsmithtimes

Gov. Rick Scott is hosting an "Economic Growth Summit" in Orlando June 2, and has commitments from several leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination to speak about the vision for economic growth. Candidates who have confirmed they will attend:

Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Obama intends to remove Cuba from list of terrorist nations

via @HeraldMimi

After 33 years of designating Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States is removing its Caribbean neighbor from a list of terrorist nations in another sign of warming relations between the two countries.

President Barack Obama sent a message to Congress on Tuesday saying Cuba would be removed from the list because it had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months and that Cuba had provided assurances that it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

The State Department began a review of whether Cuba should still have a place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on Dec. 17, the day Cuba and the United States announced they planned to put more than a half century of hostility behind them and work toward normalizing relations. It forwarded its recommendation to the president last week and Obama accepted it this week.

“Circumstances have changed since 1982, when Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday. “Our Hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago.”

In accordance with U.S. law, the president is required to inform Congress 45 days before the directive takes effect. Congress doesn’t have to validate his decision but it could decide to take action to override his recommendation.

South Florida Rep. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen promptly condemned the action, calling it “a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”

More here.

Marco Rubio follows presidential launch with media blitz


Marco Rubio, the latest 2016 Republican presidential contender, generally avoided reporters in the weeks leading up to his campaign inauguration Monday. But he's been all over the national press since then, trying to make the most of his moment in the spotlight.

Rubio sat down with Fox News' Sean Hannity at the Freedom Tower for a full hour Monday immediately following his announcement. There were also interviews with NPR, ABC News, The Today Show, Morning Joe, CNN...

We've linked to transcripts above and embedded videos below.

ABC News

HIGHLIGHTS: According to the transcript, Rubio said he would reopen Guántanamo, should President Obama manage to close it. He also said he would "put Cuba back on to the terrorism list where they belong," referring to Cuba. The interview took place Monday, a day before President Obama formally informed Congress he plans to remove Cuba from the list. All signs pointed to that happening, however, and Rubio has been a leading critic of the president's new Cuba policy.

EXTRA HIGHLIGHT: Rubio's wife, Jeanette, took part in the interview. She said Rubio's four kids, all under age 16, were excited to hear they could have pizza and ice cream at the White House. But Dad would still have to pay for it, he noted.

ABC Breaking US News | US News Videos 

ABC Breaking US News | US News Videos 


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Raquel Regalado: Don't make Baylink 'a priority'


Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado told a Miami Beach breakfast group Tuesday that she doesn't want the proposed Baylink light-rail system to be first in line for county transit dollars.

"I don't think Baylink should be a priority," the two-term school board member told about 70 people gathered for the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, a venerable Beach gathering dedicated to civic speakers. "I think Baylink is a good opportunity at the state level to take some bed-tax money and use it for transportation."

The pricey light-rail system envisioned as a speedy connection  between the beach and the mainland is a stated priority for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who often cites Baylink as a central part of his transportation agenda.

Regalado's father, Tomás Regalado, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also support the Baylink plan, though the funding formula hasn't been proposed. A recent price estimate put the cost at $775 million, but a new study is underway to update the 2004 report that first projected costs for the long-delayed rail line.

On Tuesday, Levine took a jab at Gimenez over a scrapped meeting scheduled that afternoon for all three mayors to discuss Baylink. "It was canceled as transportation is not really that important in Dade County," Levine said in a text message. In an interview, he added: "It's really better to focus on building a mega-mall. Everybody wants their children to grow up and work at a mall."

The remarks were aimed at Gimenez's support of American Dream Miami, a 200-acre retail theme park to be partly built on state land Miami-Dade is securing to sell to developer Triple Five. The land deal was set for approval by the Florida Cabinet Tuesday, and Gimenez traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for the transaction.

"The mayor could not attend the meeting today due to his travel to Tallahassee," Gimenez spokesman  Michael Hernández said of the Baylink panel, part of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "The meeting will be rescheduled."

Continue reading "Raquel Regalado: Don't make Baylink 'a priority'" »