June 27, 2017

Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Marco Rubio 2


Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.” 

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and former health care executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t kick in for a few years.

Read more here.

June 23, 2017

Gov. Scott plans D.C. trip as U.S. Senate debates Obamacare repeal

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that he will travel to Washington, D.C. next week so he can provide input as the U.S. Senate debates its proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new plan.

No details were released as to when Scott would travel to the nation's capital or whom he will meet with there.

"I have been carefully reviewing the bill and next week, I will be traveling to Washington to meet with congressional leaders to provide input on how we can make the bill better for Floridians," Scott said in a statement.

Scott is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate in 2018 against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

Scott called Obamacare a "terrible, expensive mess" and offered some general insight into what he would want to see out of Congress' replacement plan.

“All states must be treated equitably. Florida taxpayers deserve the same treatment as every other state under the Medicaid program," Scott said. He added: "Every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, should have the ability to buy any kind of insurance they want. This will drive down costs and give people the flexibility and power to determine what they want to buy."

Photo credit: AP

June 22, 2017

Gillum wants state law so women can maintain no-cost birth control if Obamacare is repealed

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Criticizing President Donald Trump's administration for wanting to "turn back the clock and take essential healthcare away from women" by rolling back parts of Obamacare, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday will propose protecting women's access to free birth control through a new state law instead.

“As governor, I'm going to stand with women and ensure that neither the government nor their employer stand between a woman and her doctor in making the critical health decisions that affect her life. This is an essential part of providing better quality care and economic security and stability to more Floridians," Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, said in a statement provided to the Herald/Times.

Enacting such a measure would require earning support from Florida's Republican-led Legislature, which would prove challenging -- particularly in the more conservative-minded House.

The proposal is an addition to a health care platform Gillum first unveiled last month in Tallahassee. At the time, he called for state protections to prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, charging higher premiums for those conditions and charging higher premiums for women than men.

Such safeguards, along with the no-cost birth control coverage, are currently protected under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare -- which congressional Republicans are seeking to dismantle and replace with their own plan. (The U.S. House has already passed its version; Senate Republicans are crafting theirs behind closed doors, which has drawn criticism and protests from Democrats.)

RELATED from PolitiFact: "7 questions about the Senate health care bill and transparency"

Meanwhile, three weeks ago, various national media reported that White House officials had drafted a rule to rollback the requirement under Obamacare that forces religious employers to cover birth control in health care plans -- which sparked Gillum to add the issue to his health care policy platform.

Two female doctors from Miami praised Gillum's idea in a statement provided by his campaign.

"Access to contraception is such an important part of a woman's health," said Dr. Annette Pelaez, an obstetrician who works at Miami MDs For Women. "This common-sense proposal would ensure that women in Florida can continue making responsible health decisions motivated by wellness, instead of by cost or coverage."

"There is no doubt that the women our practice sees would be harmed by Trump's proposal to reduce access to contraception," agreed Dr. Roselyn Bonilla, a gynecologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. "That makes Gillum's proposal all the more important. As a physician, I'm glad that someone is willing to put the medical rights of women first, above politics."

Gillum is among at least three Democratic contenders seeking to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott after next year's election. The other candidates are former Tallahassee U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando businessman Chris King -- although Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan could also run.

Among Republicans, the only declared candidate so far is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but he's likely to face a challenge from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O'Lakes; Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, of Clearwater; and/or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Photo credit: 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks at a press conference in Tallahassee in May. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

April 27, 2017

How South Florida Congressional members are reacting to new GOP Obamacare overhaul



The Republican Party has revived it's effort to overhaul Obamacare that could reach a vote in Congress this week as President Donald Trump approaches his 100th day in office.

The amendment by U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey Republican, would allow states to apply for waivers to certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. The House could vote on the measure, which amends the GOP's American Health Care Act, this week. (The AHCA died in March without a vote when competing GOP factions in the House couldn't agree on it.)

Many of the Florida Republicans have been non-committal so far including Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart who represent Miami-Dade. 

Here is a running tally of comments by South Florida members of Congress on the amendment based on interviews with their spokespersons. 


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: “After studying the revised bill, I intend to vote NO. This plan still does not effectively address the needs of my South Florida constituents.  The proposed changes to this bill would leave too many of my constituents with pre-existing conditions paying more for health insurance coverage and too many of them will even be left without any coverage at all. Additionally, this new plan still includes painful cuts to Medicaid that will make it more difficult to care for patients with high costs of coverage due to special needs or chronic diseases. Unfortunately, the bill does not deliver what my district needs and until a plan that helps South Florida is proposed, I will continue to side with my constituents in opposing this plan.”

Carlos Curbelo: "The Congressman is still in the process of reviewing the legislation and discussing it with House leaders." 

Mario Diaz-Balart: "He is still reviewing the proposal and awaiting bill text to be introduced."


Alcee Hastings: “After its implosion last month, ‘TrumpCare2.0’ still eviscerates essential health benefits, increases premiums, guts Medicare, eliminates protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and unfairly targets seniors with tax increases. This bill is riddled with sweetheart deals to insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, but does nothing to actually improve healthcare in America. Republicans need to join Democrats in pursuit of actual healthcare reform and stop pandering to the extreme flank of their party."

Ted Deutch: “Republicans are clearly not listening to the American people. Just like the last one, this bill gives the green light to strip away essential health benefits supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, like maternal care and ER visits. This bill opens the door for discrimination against women, seniors, and people with pre-existing conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and so many other diseases. Is this really how we are making America great again?”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Opposed. In a fundraising email she called "TRUMPCARE 2.0 ... more dangerous than ever."

 - with Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times

April 06, 2017

Florida voters support Medicaid expansion, survey finds


via @dchangmiami

As the White House and House Republicans continue to discuss plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a new survey of more than 7,000 registered voters in eight states, including Florida, finds growing public support for the health law’s Medicaid expansion option.

In four states that didn’t expand Medicaid — Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — more than six in 10 voters said they’d like their states to provide the extra coverage, according to the study conducted by the University of Marylandbetween November and January. Voters in the states that had expanded Medicaid — California, Maryland, New York and Ohio — also said they favored the measure.

In Florida, 67 percent of all voters surveyed favored Medicaid expansion compared to 64 percent nationally.

Keep reading here.

March 10, 2017

Florida elderly and poor would fare worse under GOP's Obamacare replacement

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via @dchangmiami

For most of the estimated 1.7 million Floridians enrolled in an Affordable Care Act plan, the House Republican proposal to repeal and replace the health law known as Obamacare will change the financial aid they receive to pay their monthly premiums beginning in 2020.

Both Obamacare and the American Health Care Act unveiled this week by House Republicans include financial aid, in the form of tax credits, to help people buy insurance. But the law and the proposed bill calculate those amounts differently. The ACA tests family income, the local cost of health insurance, and age and smoking status to calculate financial aid. The proposed bill bases tax credits only on age, with a cut off for individuals who earn more than $75,000 a year ($150,000 a year for families).

In Florida, about 1.4 million people or more than 93 percent of those enrolled in an ACA plan for 2016 received financial aid that lowered their monthly premium, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The average monthly tax credit for those Floridians was $305.

But starting in 2020, that number of people who receive a tax credit, and how far that financial aid goes in lowering their monthly premiums, would change under the Republican proposal, according to analysis of the plan by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy think tank.

In general, Floridians who are older, with lower incomes and live in rural areas will fare worse under the AHCA than they did under Obamacare, the Kaiser analysis shows, while those who are younger, with higher incomes and who live in urban areas will be better off.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

An earlier version of this post had an incorrect headline.

February 25, 2017

Rick Scott dined with Donald Trump at the White House


via @learyreports

Florida Gov. Rick Scott had lunch today at the White House with President Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The White House called it a working lunch "to discuss how best to solve the problems of Obamacare, with a special emphasis on the states’ role in healthcare."

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio had dinner with Trump.

Scott's official daily schedule originally did not disclose the lunch. The governor's office sent a revised schedule at 5:25 p.m. indicating the meeting with Trump was at 2 p.m.

Scott then also tweeted a photo of himself in the Oval Office with the president, saying it was "great meeting with my friend @realDonaldTrump today on reinventing great health care in our nation!"

-- with Kristen M. Clark contributing

Photo credit: @FLGovScott

January 13, 2017

Where would Obamacare repeal be felt most? Miami

House Republicans Obamacare
via @lesleyclark

WASHINGTON -- Perhaps nowhere in America would so many people be as personally affected by the Republican-led repeal of Obamacare than Miami.

Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country, posing a bit of a wrinkle as those House members prepare to follow their Senate colleagues and vote Friday to begin the process of dismantling the 2010 federal law that has extended health insurance to as many as 20 million Americans.

There are 96,300 people enrolled in the Florida district represented by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Her district is followed closely by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, whose southwest Miami-Dade and Monroe County district has 92,500 enrolled in the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who opposes rescinding the law, has the third-greatest number at 94,100, followed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, whose Hialeah to Naples district has 83,300 enrolled.

Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the incongruity, noting that many in her district are worried about losing what she called the “positive aspects” of President Barack Obama’s signature law, including keeping children on their parents’ insurance through 26 and covering pre-existing conditions.

More here.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

October 17, 2016

Country's biggest nursing home pharmacy pays big kickbacks fine



Omnicare, a giant nationwide specialty pharmacy whose South Florida outlet delivers medicines to 150 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the region, has agreed to pay a $28 million fine for taking kickbacks for recommending an epilepsy drug to its customers

While the drug Depakote's FDA-approved purpose is to treat seizures, it's off-brand sales have soared with Abbott Laboratories, the medicine's Chicago-based manufacturer, promoting it to control aggression in elderly patients with dementia.

The $28 million settlement, announced Monday by the Justice Department, came almost four years after the government sued Omnicare Inc. for accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks from Abbott Laboratories for promoting the use of Depakote.

"Elderly nursing home residents suffering from dementia are among our nation's most vulnerable patient populations," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda said in filing the December 2010 suit. "Kickbacks to consulting pharmacists compromise their independence and undermine their role in protecting nursing home residents from the use of unnecessary drugs."

In a separate lawsuit, Abbot Laboratories in 2012 agreed to pay DOJ a much larger fine, $1.2 billion, for having misbranded Depakota.

Omnicare, purchased least year by CVS Health,  has 160 locations throughout the country, including six in Florida. Its Weston branch serves 150 nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout South Florida.

In an earlier settlement with DOJ, Omnicare agreed in 2012 to pay $50 million to resolve claims that it had improperly dispensed controlled substances.

Photo credit: Scott Eells, Bloomberg







September 29, 2016

President Obama to give health care speech Wednesday in Tampa

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will deliver a speech on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday at University of South Florida in Tampa, the White House said.


"Located in Hillsborough County, which has a strong health care system, USF offers a diverse set of training programs for health professions and has led efforts to sign up people for health insurance," the White House said. "Further details about the President's travel to Florida will be made available in the coming days."

It's unclear whether Obama will do another event for Hillary Clinton, though he is expected to hit the road on her behalf in October.