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Fla. Senate passes Negron's Medicaid bill

Kelli Kennedy and Gary Fineout, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Senate passed a bill without debate Tuesday that would accept more than $50 billion federal dollars and offer health coverage to more than 1 million Floridians under the federal health law. The move sent a strong message to the House that the Senate is not backing down on a Medicaid expansion alternative, making a compromise unlikely in the final days of session.

But House Republicans refused to consider the bill and have resisted accepting any money tied to President Obama's Affordable Care Act and instead passed a bill that would use $237 million in state funds to cover about 115,000 residents.

House Democratic Leaders Perry Thurston and Mia Jones met with Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday morning and urged him to veto the budget should the Legislature fail to approve a health coverage expansion plan this session that relies upon available federal dollars.

"I'm sure our governor knows it's time for him to step up and get involved ... He should call a special session and he should veto this budget," Thurston said.

Later Tuesday, Thurston and other angry House Democrats used a procedural move to stall the session in its final days to express their frustration over the Medicaid gridlock, and required that all bills must be read in full before they are voted on. Republicans responded by using an "auto reader" machine that reads bills. One bill took more than 20 minutes to read.

He said the drastic situation required drastic tactics and that House Democrats want affordable health care for Floridians "by whatever means necessary."

"We could go ahead and sine die and leave 1.2 million people hanging. People are dying. This is about saving lives. The bill is there, the finances are there," Thurston said.

Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said they planned to continue on with the stall tactic through Wednesday.

Scott, House Democrats, Florida hospitals, health advocates and a diverse mix of business and labor groups all lined up in support of the Senate bill proposed by Republican Joe Negron that would draw down more than $50 billion federal dollars over the next decade and give it to an estimated 1.1 Floridians. The bill would not expand Medicaid but give money to residents to purchase private insurance.

The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the costs for the 1.1 million newly insured and 90 percent for three years after, but House Republicans worry the feds will not make good on a promise, leaving them on the hook.

It's unclear how much, if any, pressure Scott will place on his Republican colleagues in the House even though he signaled his support for Medicaid expansion. The governor would not answer questions Tuesday about whether he'd spoken to any lawmakers individually about Medicaid expansion alternatives.

Scott has focused on teacher pay raises and other legislative issues and mostly stayed out of the Medicaid fray, but almost daily has expressed his support for Negron's plan and his desire to the Legislature to do the right thing.

Negron said Monday he will continue working on the issue "until they turn the lights out in the Senate chamber" but said the differences between the House and Senate may be too far to bridge this late in the session.


Associated Press writer James L. Rosica in Tallahassee also contributed to this report.


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