TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A Senate health committee in Florida recommended Monday that the state suspend the Office of Insurance Regulation's power to set rates for insurers under the Affordable Care Act and instead let the federal government handle that responsibility.
With federal officials issuing new regulations weekly, lawmakers decided it would be best for those officials to oversee that approval process for the next year or two, especially because there will likely be large rate increases. The committee chairman, Sen. Joe Negron, said he thought it would be difficult for the Office of Regulation to determine what reasonable rates are under the new system because there are still many uncertainties.
The state agency will continue to review new policies that come in under the federal health law to make sure they comply with state laws.
"We do have laws in Florida that we've enacted to protect consumers and I don't think we should walk back from those," Negron said.
The committee also voted Monday to extend health coverage to the state's part-time employees, reasoning the $137 million-a-year cost for coverage is cheaper than paying a $318 million fine.
Residents and businesses are required to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act or face a fine, and the state of Florida, which employs roughly 170,000 people, is also included in that mandate.
Monday's meeting was the last for the Senate panel charged with implementing President Barack Obama's federal health care law. It comes a week after the panel voted against expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to roughly 1 million residents, with the costs initially paid for by the federal government. The panel instead proposed a voucher program that would allow residents to purchase private insurance. The state may also offer some funds in addition to government money to subsidize premiums and co-pays that residents would be charged.
A House panel has also rejected traditional Medicaid expansion and is still developing an alternative proposal.
Scott, a Republican, wants to expand Medicaid for three years as long as the federal government foots the bill. State economists project Florida would draw down more than $51 billion over the next decade, while spending about $5.2 billion.
Republican Sen. David Simmons seized a portion of Monday's public testimony section to make a political point about the federal health care law.
As one man pleaded with the panel not to implement so-called "Obamacare" and warned it would be a disaster, Simmons pressed him for a viable alternative.
"Do you want the employers of the state of Florida to pay the expense rather than the federal government to pay the expense? Do you acknowledge we have no good, free alternative...we're not looking at this in a vacuum," Simmons said.
When the speaker failed to relent, Simmons pushed back, saying that simply not implementing the federal health law would be a decision with costly consequences, especially for the state's business sector.
"We want to get passed the fact that neither you like Obamacare nor I like Obamacare but it is here and we're going to have to deal with it," he said.