Second Senate health care alternative advances

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  • | 12:00 p.m. April 3, 2013
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A low cost health care plan for the poorest Florida residents advanced Tuesday in the Senate, as lawmakers try to figure out how to extend health care coverage as newly required by federal law. 

The proposal, which was approved 6-3 in the Senate Health Policy Committee, is one of at least two ideas for extending health care to those too poor to buy private insurance. 

This one, being pushed by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) would have Florida pay for the program on its own without accepting federal money, and would require a monthly premium — with the amount to be determined by how much money lawmakers earmark for the program. What would be offered under the Bean plan, SPB 7144, would not exactly be traditional insurance, but would have participants and the state jointly pay into the "health benefits" fund, which would then be tapped to provide medical care. 

Another proposal, by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) the Senate's budget chairman, would use federal money to provide private insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Florida residents. 

Bean said Tuesday he wanted to provide an alternative because there are concerns that the House may not support the Negron plan, at least in part because it does rely on federal money. 

Whatever the Legislature does, "has to be something we can all say yes to; the Senate, the House, and our governor," Bean said. "I'm looking for something we can say yes to." 

Bean's proposed program, would be available for people at or below the federal poverty line — $23,550 for a family of four.

Families who have higher incomes, Bean noted, will be eligible up to a point for subsidized insurance through health insurance exchanges under the new federal health care law. Above that point, presumably, they could afford private health insurance. 

Democrats and a number of advocates have raised concerns that even the monthly premium of $20 or lower that Bean envisions for his plan, called Health Choice Plus, would be too high for many people living below the poverty line. 

"They would have bought insurance if they had the money, but they don't have the money," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood). 

Negron's proposal would include people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. 

The Bean and Negron proposals come after House and Senate Republicans rejected an expansion of the Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. Gov. Rick Scott supports accepting federal money for three years to expand Medicaid to cover more people. 

The Bean proposal would require participants to be working or prove they're looking for work, which might cut out lots of people below the poverty line. A single person would have to be making less than about $11,500 a year to be eligible.

It also would require that any children in the family be covered before adults could be eligible. 



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