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Florida’s Broke, But It’s Refusing a $1 Million Health Insurance Oversight Grant Anyway

| February 6, 2011

florida health care premiums federal grant insurance.

Florida in the imbalance.

Jim Saunders
Health News Florida

Florida has a huge budget hole, and nobody truly knows whether the federal health-care overhaul will be upheld or killed by the Supreme Court.

But state Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty is taking his chances.

After a Pensacola judge’s ruling that the overhaul is unconstitutional, McCarty said Tuesday he will forfeit a $1 million federal grant that was supposed to go toward beefing up oversight of health-insurance rates.

McCarty also is looking at the court decision to decide whether to seek a federal waiver of a requirement that insurers spend minimum amounts of premiums on customers’ health-care expenses. The commissioner said last year he would seek such a waiver, which would give insurers more leeway in complying with the requirements, known as a “medical-loss ratio.”

As far as the Office of Insurance Regulation was concerned Tuesday, the federal health law wasn’t in effect. At least in part, that is because the state Capitol is in the same federal district as Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who found the law unconstitutional Monday.

“As of right now, it doesn’t exist,” Deputy Insurance Commissioner Mary Beth Senkewicz said during a conference call of the McCarty-chaired Health Insurance Advisory Board.

McCarty’s disclosed the decision to give up the $1 million grant during the conference call and also sent a letter Tuesday to a top federal health official. The Office of Insurance Regulation was awarded the grant last year to hire workers and upgrade technology.

“No drawdown of any of the $1 million will occur,” said the letter, which gave no explanation.

McCarty gave a brief explanation for his decision, saying he was concerned about intrusiveness of the federal government. He also pointed to a Pensacola judge’s ruling. He did not give any indication whether Gov. Rick Scott influenced the move, though Scott said earlier in the day that the state will not spend much time or money carrying out the law until court challenges are resolved.

“Quite frankly, yesterday’s court decision just made the decision (to give back the money) that much easier,” McCarty said.

But Laura Goodhue, executive director of the consumer-advocacy group Florida CHAIN, said the grant was supposed to help policyholders by “shedding light” on how insurance premiums are set.

“Florida needs to prepare for health-care reform, and we should be accepting grants from the federal government that will help us cover our expenses,” said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat who is a top lawmaker on health issues.

McCarty is an appointed official who reports to Scott and the state’s all-Republican Cabinet. He served in the job under former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist and is a national leader among insurance commissioners — but has faced recent speculation about whether he will keep the position after wholesale changes in the governor’s office and Cabinet seats during the November elections.

Tuesday’s decision was not the first time Florida has foregone federal funding that could help carry out the law. The state did not apply last year for money in what is known as the “Consumer Assistance Program” — which is designed to help people with insurance decisions and information.

Goodhue said that program could have provided $2 million to Florida, which was one of about 15 states that did not receive a grant.

It also is unclear whether the state Agency for Health Care Administration will apply for a newly available grant to prepare for creating a health-insurance exchange, which would provide a sort of marketplace where consumers could shop for coverage.

AHCA did not respond to repeated questions during the past two weeks from Health News Florida about whether it would apply for the exchange grant. Late Tuesday afternoon, AHCA referred all questions about the federal health law to the governor’s office, which did not return a phone call.

Scott brushed aside a question Tuesday about whether Florida would be ready to implement the law if legal challenges ultimately fail. Major parts of the law are scheduled to take effect in 2014.

“The state won’t be caught flat-footed,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”

But Rich said the state should not stop moving forward with the law.

“Until the Supreme Court overturns it or until the Congress changes it, we need to abide by what the law is,” she said.

In discussing his decision Tuesday to ditch the $1 million grant, McCarty pointed to a dispute in Connecticut that he said indicated the federal government would be too intrusive.

McCarty did not explain further. But federal health officials criticized Connecticut in October for approving a rate increase of as much as 47 percent for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield — and tied the criticism to a $1 million grant that Connectictut received, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.

The federal government sent a letter saying Connecticut received the grant “based on its representation that it would rigorously review rates.” But the letter said federal officials were surprised when Connecticut approved the rate increase without holding a public hearing or disclosing certain information about the hike.

Jim Saunders can be reached at 850/228-0963 or by e-mail.

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9 Responses for “Florida’s Broke, But It’s Refusing a $1 Million Health Insurance Oversight Grant Anyway”

  1. rickg says:

    What’s wrong with this picture. The state is in the hole by billions of dollars and the Insurance Commissioner passes on a job creating $1 million grant…. Hmmm Nah, I’m sure the Governor had nothing to do with this….. Right!!

  2. PC MAN says:

    Ah politics, politics, politics. That’s the name of the game, cut your nose to spite your face ? You betcha. What’s a million to Gov Fraud Scott, he spent 60 million to get elected. That’s chump change to a weasel like him.

  3. Outsider says:

    Ah, yes, take the bait ye say. So what happens after they build up yet another government bureacracy with this money, and then the grant runs out? You’re stuck with another unfunded government office that the state will be expected to continue funding. I think we already have an insurance commissioner; why do we need more redundant regulators? Maybe this is yet another way to “save or create” more jobs.

  4. palm coaster says:

    Take away the tax payers forced funding high coverage health insurance of Vinson, McCarthy and any other political or elected official that votes against the Health Care for all.
    Why are we paying for theirs when they are denying it to 40 million Americans? Away with it and also lower their high out of context with our financial reality salaries. That will make them realized finaly what is to go without it!
    The only way to create jobs is to tax imports to all the over 47,000 factories that moved overseas since 2001 just over the greedy pursuit of gazillonaire revenues from workers at slavery wages (like 140/month) an unmonitored environmental pollution versus paying a deserving wage to an American worker and follow guidelines to protect our environment.
    Then reward them from bringing their factories back home as all they manufacture overseas “is to sell to us here”, as those slave workers and their meager earnings can’t afford luxuries like TV sets, I-Pads, computers and the like. Can any of our representatives have the guts to just do it?

  5. The Truth says:

    It’s time for everyone to get their panties out of a wad and start understanding that our health system is broke. We need an overhaul and we need to make these insurance companies more responsible. The charges are outrageous and doctors offices/hospitals are making fortunes off of this.

    While I admit that the proposed health care bill needs some tweaking, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. To those who have great health insurance from their current or past employer, this may not matter much to you but to those of us who pay for lower coverage because we are self employed we could use some help. We are not asking for a hand out, just some help in case of an emergency.

    I’m so sick of both parties doing whatever they can to slow the process down for growth in this country. It’s all political and will continue whether Obama is in office or not. Right now, the blame goes to Obama for everything. I’m sure Steeler fans are blaming Obama for their team losing last night. The fact of the matter is that the President does not make all the decisions for this country and quite frankly, we are in a situation that is very difficult right now. Rather than work together, we continue to work separately and we will get no where until everyone gets their act together.

    Sarah Palin recently criticized the president for his handling of Egypt. I’m sorry, but who is this Palin again? Is she a governor? No. All she is a is a money hungry woman who is looking to capitalize on her new found fame. Anyone who is concerned with trademarking their name doesn’t deserve to comment on the state of our country or decisions of our president.

  6. PC MAN says:

    I’ve got a great idea for all the gubmint hating teabaggers. Take away your Medicare teet and give you a tax refund for your medical needs. Lets see you buy a Rascal scooter with that.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Truth, I certainly hope you feel the same way about Bill Clinton..he’s made hundreds of millions of dollars off of his name. Regardless, as Americans, I think we are entitled to our rights, specifically those guaranteed by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. Certainly you’re not advocating denying anyone the right to speak their mind, are you? You see, the way it works is people speak, and other people can choose whether or not to listen. As far as the political process slowing down growth, I beg to differ. There are two conflicting approaches to creating growth in this country; Obama seems to believe you just print off money and drop it out of airplanes and that will create growth. I believe the government’s role is to foster an environment conducive to growth. Instead of putting tariffs on imports, as one suggests, we could lower the corporate tax rate to zero. This will immediately lower hurdles to entice businesses to locate here, as they would be relieved of the burdensome task of calculating and paying those taxes. We, the consumer, end up paying those taxes anyway as they are embedded in the price of the product. As someone who has good health insurance, I understand that the purpose of the healthcare law is to eventually do away with private insurance and force everyone into a government run system, making it “fairer” for everyone. If my company pays 12,000 dollars a year for my coverage, and the fine for not providing coverage will be 1,000 per year, then it’s a big “DUH” as to what will happen next, creating a new “crisis” which many will insist can only be resolved by instituting a single payer system, where everyone will have the same crappy coverage. That is more in line with Obama’s ideology of things being “fair” as opposed to him wanting to make sure people have health care. If that weren’t the case, then the law would have only addressed the 25% or so of people who were not currently insured or happy with their insurance at the time the healthcare bill was passed.

  8. palm coaster says:

    You can keep your health insurance one is targeting that. But the millions of uninsured deserve to have some health insurance also and if can only be done via government universal coverage, then be it!. Its time that we stop assessing the goodness and progress of our country by the better status and/or increased wealth of the rich while systematically destroying our middle society. What else but total deregulation has increased since 2001 in our country, the health insurance cost, corporate and Wall Street fraudulent increased wealth and look where we are now.
    A further projection of the current financial’s of our land and majority of its people destitute, is what you propose? Our health has been in private hands forever and look where we got…maybe not you, but most. These big white elephants making themselves millionaires and building themselves their castles to properly fit them with the money gouged from us all, if God forbid we fallen ill and into their hospitals. And see at the Las Vegas Resort looking style hospital just built of 95 South in Volusia that gouging can buy. Big business not less luxury and more affordable health care for all…of course except you. Also your mirage that without taxing imports the corporate world will relocate back here if exempted from paying corporate tax that is another fantasy…We not only do not tax these corporate outsourcing giants, to the contrary, we give them billions in tax breaks/incentives that they use to open their factories elsewhere. Simply because nothing is “more profitable than slave wages and total environmental deregulation” except that import tariffs will be imposed. Its time to tax imports and get everyone’s jobs back.

  9. I Think and I Vote says:

    Palm Coaster, when the libtards and progressives were flogging for support of Obamacare they claimed that there were 25 to 30 million uninsured. Now, without documentation, you claim 40 million uninsured. At this point nobody knows exactly how many are uninsured. However, instead of dealing with those who are either uninsured or underinsured the liberals decided that the entire nation must be mandated to carry health insurance. I clearly remember Vice President Biden on the day that the bill was passed claiming, “Now, we control the insurance companies!” When do you realized that when you surrender your liberty and freedom to big government you never get it back.

    Obama and his enlightened, overeducated henchmen drafted the bill in secret. The geniuses were all so confident that all of America would openly embrace this bull crap that they did not include a seperability clause in the law. That means if one part of the law is found unconstitutional the entire law goes into the crapper. These progressive liberals are so smart they are actually dumb. Our government under this president has taken on powers and acted completely without regard to our constitution. They are trying to make us a European nanny state. They should look to Europe and see that socialism is an animal that eats itself. When you no longer have a base of taxpayers because it is easier to be a government client rather than a worker, the system implodes and the country stops being a country.

    I applaud the Florida Governors decision to not accept the milliion dollar grant for oversight of medical insurance because the money comes with too many strings attached. Maybe Obama needs a czar for Florida.

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