Joe Negron and Pat Rooney Explain the Senate/House Discord on Health Care

Previously scheduled for the May meeting to occur after the end of the 2015 session, our Legislative Update was particularly timely since the Legislature failed to finish their work this year and are headed back for a special session next week.

District 32 Senator Joe Negron and District 85 Representative Pat Rooney gave us their view of a few of the issues that were particularly important to them. For Senator Negron, these included Lake Okeechobee discharges, school testing and veterans benefits, while Representative Rooney spoke about placing limits on “sober houses”, city and county pension issues, and letting bars and restaurants serve beer in 64 oz. “growlers”.

The main event of course was health care. In a strange intra-party battle between the Florida Senate on one side and the House and Governor on the other, Tallahassee has shown that they can be just as dysfunctional as their counterparts in Washington. With an impasse over “Medicaid Expansion” (which each side trys to call something different) holding up the passage of the state Budget and three days left before the scheduled end of session, the House took their ball and went home. Since the constitution requires a budget, the Governor is calling them back for a special session starting next week.

What makes this most curious is the fact that the leadership of both bodies are Republican. Those in the Senate though, perhaps are not your father’s Republicans.

The Senate position, represented by Joe Negron who could be the next Senate President, is one of compassion for the working poor and a desire to make sure that “everybody has health insurance.” Relating anecdotes about uninsured parents bringing their screaming children into emergency rooms because they waited too long to seek care, he spoke sadly about the 800,000 uninsured in Florida in that narrow band between existing Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies (100%-130% of the poverty line). Apparently, Senator Negron’s goal is universal health care, with the Florida taxpayer providing subsidies for those who either can’t or won’t purchase their own health insurance. His arguments about stopping the cost shifting from the uninsured to the hospital emergency rooms (who make it up by charging us more), and the urgent necessity to “solve the problem” of Florida’s uninsured, are very reminiscent of the arguments made by President Obama for the Affordable Care Act. In a state that has fought the imposition of Obamacare on constitutional grounds, and has so far resisted its major expansion of Medicaid – a budget buster in a few years, the Republican Senate has gone all Progressive on us. They are actually proposing a brand new entitlement that will redistribute wealth to yet another class of recipient. It is no wonder that the Senate approach is strongly supported by the Democrat party in Florida, and the Hospital and Health Insurance industries which would profit mightily by its passage.

The House position (supported by Governor Scott) was clearly defined by Pat Rooney – we need to care about the cost of these programs, particularly in the out years which very shortly would add another $3-4B Billion burden on the state budget. The House opposes the expansion of Medicaid provided for in Obamacare (which the Supreme Court ruled could not be imposed on the states), for several reasons, most importantly its unaffordability. The House in aggregate, and Pat Rooney in particular, are still governed by Republican principles.

For more information about the dispute and its likely outcome in the budget battle, see: Retooled health proposal snubbed

Also at the meeting, the passing of long time club member Barbara Hawley was noted with a moment of silence, and GOP vice-chair Tami Donnelly made a pitch for new REC members.

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