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Alternative to Medicaid expansion moves swiftly through the Florida Senate

A second Senate panel on Tuesday approved a proposal to extend federally-subsidized healthcare coverage to nearly one million poor residents.

The plan -- known as the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange Program, or FHIX -- would create a state-run private health insurance marketplace. Participants would have to pay small monthly premiums and meet a work requirement.

Several members of the public spoke out against the bill Tuesday, including Bill Herrle of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Business owners are very concerned for the future of this state when we become attendant to the whims of federal agencies," he said.

Other speakers voiced concerns about the work requirement and monthly premiums.

But by and large, representatives from hospitals, the business community and consumer advocacy groups gave their support.

"Extending healthcare coverage will benefit every Florida family, including those in our Hispanic community, and it will help Florida businesses," said President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Julio Fuentes.

Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee agreed, approving the bill by a unanimous vote.

"This is no longer a Republican or a Democratic issue," said Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. "Are there issues with the Affordable Care Act? Absolutely... But to deny the hardworking men and women of this state access to health care, to me, is completely irresponsible."

The panel put the pressure on the House, which has opposed expanding Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act.

"It's time that the House takes up the bill, looks out for Floridians, stops dealing in talking points and moves on," said Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

When asked if he believed the House would consider the plan, Senate Health Policy Committee Chairman Aaron Bean turned to baseball.

"It's the third inning of a nine-inning ball game," Bean said. "I'm looking for some big play in a latter inning for us to score on this issue. It's early."