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The Florida Senate's big hospital paychecks

Last year, top state senators behind a plan for federal funds to subsidize low-income Floridians’ health insurance together collected more than half a million dollars in salary from the industry.

Personal financial information filed with the state this month shows just how much lawmakers and their spouses earned in lucrative health care jobs last year:

* Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, earned $189,329 as vice president of external affairs and community relations for Orlando Health.

* Health Care Budget Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, earned $125,000 from Dade Medical College, where he is vice president of external affairs.

* Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, works for Shands Jacksonville Hospital as relationship development officer and earned $73,423.

* Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, is an administrator at Florida Hospital Wauchula. Her 2014 financial forms don’t include a breakdown of her sources of income.

* Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is married to Julie Galvano, who earned $111,422 in 2013 as director of business development and sales at Blake Medical Center. (Sen. Galvano was granted an extension to Aug. 15 for his 2014 financial disclosures.)

* Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, owns a major stake in Caregivers, Inc., which earns revenue from Medicaid and contributed $36,000 of the senator’s income last year.

So as lawmakers were gearing up for a legislative session when the Florida Health Insurance Exchange (the FHIX plan) and Medicaid expansion would become the big issue, many of the most influential members of the Legislature were working for and collecting paychecks from the groups that stood to gain if the plan was passed into law.

The Florida Hospitals Association, for example, was one of the biggest supporters of FHIX, which would have reduced losses due to uncompensated care.

It’s hardly new information that so many powerful people in the health care debate work in the health care industry. Notably, this spring, it has been written about in theAssociated Press and the Florida Times-Union. Lawmakers like House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made a habit of pointing out these ties, too.

The new information here is how much each lawmaker earned from the industry last year, made public in financial reports this month.

But it does raise a question worth thinking about in the Florida Legislature, which prides itself on being led by citizens who have jobs elsewhere. Do big industries and special interest groups benefit when their employees make the rules and write the budget?

Or is it best to let the people who work in health care — and therefore have a deeper knowledge of it — set health policy?