From my first day in the Florida legislature, I have been fighting to provide better access to quality affordable health care. One of the first bills I co-sponsored was the Silver Saver Program to lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors. This year, I was appointed to serve as the Chairman of Health Appropriations, which encompasses nearly $20 billion (or about 1/3) of our state’s annual budget. Despite the significant downturn in the economy, I was able to effectively leverage the matching dollars received by the federal government to protect the benefits of more that 2.7 million Floridians who receive Medicaid. In fact, at the conclusion of the 2009 extended legislative session, the approved budget which was signed by the Governor included the complete restoration of the Medically Needy Program and Medicaid for the Aged and Disabled (MedsAD), the total cost of which was more than $300 million.
Other than reducing the annual number of allowed pairs of eyeglasses under Medicaid from two to one (which is now comparable to private health insurance plans), we successfully averted having to make any reductions in the 2009-2010 budget in medical services or medical provider reimbursement rates under Medicaid for critical optional service programs which include optometry, podiatry, chiropractic, and dental.
By using an innovative approach that authorized an industry-wide self imposed quality assessment fee, we were able to leverage federal matching dollars to restore prior cuts to nursing homes all the way back to January 2008 and avoided imposing any new cuts in the 2009-2010 budget. At the same time we also restored nursing home staffing levels to the required full 2.9 hours per patient per day weekly average. Even in these tough economic times, we were able to shift money from existing resources to find a way to increase the number of nursing home diversion slots by more than 2000 because it made good economic sense. Investing in this program is more cost effective than placing a person in a nursing home, in those cases where that can be avoided, by allowing those who would otherwise be eligible to go into a nursing home to remain in their own home with all necessary health care services (including transportation) being provided under the direction of a professional case manager assigned for that person. This program saves taxpayers more than $40,000 per year per patient and preserves a higher quality of life by allowing a patient to remain in their own home or living with family members as long as possible.
Using the same type of quality assessment fee as for nursing homes, we were able to prevent any cuts affecting our most vulnerable citizens who are confined to the Institutional Community Facilities for the Developmentally Disabled (ICFDD). Although we did impose about a 1% reduction on reimbursement rates for hospital in-patient and out-patient services, we provided them with a mechanism to use local intergovernmental tax transfers to buy back most of those cuts. HMOs absorbed less than a 1% indirect pass-through reduction in their reimbursement rates due to the slight reduction to hospital rates. Pharmacy reimbursement rates for both chain and independent pharmacies remained unchanged. Finally, we were able to completely fund the KidCare program (including possible enrollment increases and waiting lists) and we significantly expanded our public outreach efforts about the availability of KidCare which is a low cost option to obtain affordable health insurance for children under the age of 18 through the state of Florida that is open for low income families who are uninsured and for those who cannot otherwise afford or are ineligible for private health insurance.
In short, I remain committed to using innovative, out of the box thinking to come up with better conservative solutions to funding our health care system so that you can receive the very best in health care at the most affordable price. This country does have the best health care system in the world, and I pledge to continue working hard so that you have access to it.