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Gardiner: Budget and health care debates operate on 'parallel tracks'

Senate President Andy Gardiner promised Tuesday that legislators will “get a budget done” when they meet in special session starting June 1 for three weeks but said the debate over health insurance will not be tied to it.

"You could have a scenario where no health care bills get done and you do a budget and you go home,'' Gardiner told reporters at a media availability Tuesday. "But I have confidence in the Senate that we'll be able to address all these issues and we'll figure it out."

Gardiner's comments came after the Senate extended an olive branch to the House and proposed a modified version of the Senate FHIX health care plan (Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange) in an attempt to resolve the budget impasse that led to the House's abrupt adjournment three days before the scheduled end to the regular session.

The Senate’s proposal, referred to by Gardiner as FHIX 2.0, bypasses putting people into Medicaid starting in July as was initially proposed and instead requires those eligible for the FHIX coverage to wait until January. The state plan also would have to obtain federal government approval.

The proposal also gives people the option of staying on the federal health insurance exchange, rather than going into the state’s privately-run option.

The proposal requires federal approval and, if the federal government rejects any piece of it or recommends changes, the plan would have to come back to the Legislature for final approval.

“We look at next week as starting the dialogue or the discussion,’’ Gardiner said.

Under the proposed schedule, outlined separately in memos from House and Senate leaders, the Legislature will convene on Monday and the Senate's Health Policy Committee will take up its FHIX proposal and the amendment offered by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, to modify it.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the bill (formerly SB 7044 and now SB 2A) on Tuesday and the proposal would be voted on by the full Senate on Wednesday.

After that, the Senate bill would move to the House where the Senate measure could be amended or the House could craft its own legislation. On June 9, the House’s Health Innovations Subcommittee meets and that meeting is followed on June 10 by the House’s Health and Human Services Committee.

The Senate's revised FHIX proposal also gives the state a back-up plan if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell and invalidates the federal health care subsidies for states like Florida that rely exclusively on a federal exchange. Under the Senate plan, if the federal exchange is declared unconstitutional, people on those plans would have the option of enrolling in the FHIX program.

Gardiner noted the frequent criticism made by House leaders that the federal government has never given any state approval for a health insurance waiver under the Affordable Care Act that included a work requirement for recipients.

“I would say, let’s find out,’’ Gardiner said Tuesday. “What we want to do is a Florida solution to this situation.”

He said that while the Senate plan includes a work requirement for individual to receive subsidized insurance, the work requirement can be deferred if the individuals are in school or can show other hardship.

“This is a Florida solution to the situation,’’ he said. “We’re acknowledging that we want people insured and here’s going to be our best shot at it.”