Fla. Dems urge feds to reject Medicaid overhaul

MIAMI (AP) — Four ranking Democratic state lawmakers are urging federal health officials not to expand a Medicaid privatization program being pushed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature's GOP majority, saying it has been "plagued with problems."

The letter, sent Friday to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says that the privatization proposal expands on a five-county pilot program that has failed to cut costs or improve service.

"The new legislation builds on a failed managed care platform, expands its scope, introduces additional experimental elements and dramatically accelerates its implementation, but without resolving the outstanding problems and concerns of the current pilot," says the letter signed by Reps. Elaine Schwartz, Mia Jones, Mark Pafford and Steve Perman.

Florida House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R-Miami) called the letter "reckless and irresponsible."

"Florida's new Medicaid system will ensure costs are controlled while delivering better and more stable services to Floridians who depend on Medicaid for their health care needs. Democrats continue to attack our tough and responsible choices without offering solutions to this and other difficulties the state is facing," he said in a statement.

Democrats in both the House and Senate voted against the state's Medicaid overhaul, which places the health care of nearly 3 million Florida residents into the hands of for-profit companies and hospital networks. Republican leaders said the bills will mitigate rising Medicaid costs that now top more than $20 billion a year and increase accountability over providers.

Scott signed the bills into law last month, but federal health officials still have to approve state's plan to expand.

Schwartz has been an outspoken critic of the program since the pilot began in Broward County where she serves in 2006. The Hollywood Democrat said she has been flooded with complaints, hearing from patients that couldn't get appointments and were denied medications and from doctors who said the health plans denied the treatments they prescribed.

The four also expressed doubts in the state's ability to oversee the program and track data that would detail whether patients are getting quality care and how much money providers are spending on administrative costs.

Democrats and patient advocates worry the state is abdicating the health care of its most vulnerable populations to for-profit providers with little oversight from state health officials, who have said they did not track what services and medications were denied under the pilot program.

The bills removed a requirement for plans to spend certain percentages on patient care and administrative costs. Instead lawmakers created a profit sharing plan, requiring providers to generate a 5 percent savings the first year, which could save the state about $1 billion.

Long-term care patients will be the first to enroll in the statewide program starting in October 2013. The rest of the population will join the following year.

The state's Agency for Health Care Administration is in the process of negotiating the program's expansion with federal health officials. The state was granted a 30-day extension last month to continue talks. That extension expires at the end of the month.

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