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House won't backfill hospital funding program with state dollars

The Florida House will not backfill the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program with state dollars if the federal government fails to renew funding, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Thursday.

"Florida is not in a position financially to backfill a program that was created out of Washington," Criasfulli said. 

Using the reserves to fill the gap, he added, would be "irresponsible."

But Crisafulli said the House would be open to considering new ways to help Florida hospitals that serve large numbers of uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients. Some of those safety net hospitals have said they would have to close or dramatically reduce services if the federal-state LIP program is not renewed.

What is certain: Crisafulli remains committed the House's proposed $690 million tax cut package.

"Our goal is to try to find ways to provide Floridians with tax breaks, and we intend to do that," he said.

And he remains adamantly opposed to a Senate plan that would use federal dollars to expand private health care coverage to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians.

After Thursday's floor session, a reporter asked Crisafulli what he would say to "constituents who are suffering" because they lack coverage.

"I don't have any constituents that are suffering," Crisafulli replied. "We have a constituency out there that is engaged with our hospitals. They go to our hospitals, they use those hospitals, and there is not a denial of care."

"Are you saying you don't have one constituent that needs better health care?" another reporter asked.

"That's not what we're saying," Crisafulli replied. "What we're saying is whether it is a program that we have right now in place or a growth of a new program or something we put in place, we're going to put it out there so that we can provide opportunities for people to access it. Sure, there are people out there suffering, but no different from what they will have with LIP or without LIP. For us, now, it's about moving forward and trying to find an opportunity for those that can fit into a plan that we can have right here in Florida." 

Crisafulli later sent an email to reporters saying he could have answered the question "more precisely." 

"There are Floridians, including Floridians in my district, who are suffering," he said. "However, those individuals currently have access to hospitals and there is no denial of care to them. To that point, I do not believe constituents are suffering due to the threats from Washington, D.C. I do believe they could suffer greatly if the federal government fails to fund the Low Income Pool. The Florida House remains committed to job creation, low taxes, affordable healthcare, and quality education. Our efforts are aimed at creating a state where every Floridian can prosper."