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Session's final act: Senate secures down syndrome coverage

In the last important deal of Florida's legislative session Friday, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, successfully held out for one final victory: a new insurance mandate for people with down syndrome, requiring health insurance companies to offer that coverage in insurance plans.

Gardiner and his wife Camille have a son with down syndrome, and Andrew Gardiner has been a popular and photogenic presence in the Capitol this session. Gardiner, who will leave office in November, has made expansion of programs and services for people with unique abilities the hallmark of his two-year agenda as Senate president.

The insurance mandate was a last-minute addition to House Bill 221, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a piece of legislation dealing with "balanced billing," the practice of insurers charging patients the difference between the cost of a procedure and what health care plans cover. It was one of the most heavily-lobbied health care bills of the session and included provisions important to many lobbyists, medical and business groups.

After the down syndrome language appeared on the House floor, Gardiner asked for questions or debate. Not one senator spoke, but there were knowing looks in the chamber. One sign that serious horse-trading was afoot was that the package of tax cuts (HB 7099) languished on the Senate calendar throughout the day Friday before a final Senate vote -- even though it had overwhelming bipartisan opposition.