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Daily Newscasts

FL Medicaid Privatization Under Fire

May 23, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state of Florida and federal authorities are on track for a head-on health-care collision when all provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act go into effect in 2014, observers say.

About 3 million Floridians depend on Medicaid for their health needs, a number expected to easily double when the new national health-insurance law kicks in in 2014. Florida lawmakers, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, have passed legislation to move Medicaid patients into private Health Maintenance Organization, claiming it will save the state millions. Opponents such as Florida Legal Services attorney Anne Swerlick say a pilot project in five Florida counties has yet to meet federal guidelines.

"One part of the new law says that if somebody has available to them employer-based insurance, that they'll be required to enroll in that and basically give up their Medicaid benefits. That violates the federal law, clearly, with regard to children."

An HMO takeover of Medicaid requires a federal waiver - but as the Florida law now stands, federal Health and Human Services officials say, a waiver is unlikely.

Protesters have confronted private health-care providers across the nation. At a recent WellPoint annual stockholders' meeting, they pointed out that it would take 285 public-school teachers - who each earn $47,000 a year - to equal the compensation package of Wellpoint's chief executive officer in 2010.

The managed-care industry has a shady track record to overcome, Swerlick says.

"People seem to still have their head in the sand here. It's a whole different sort of fraud that goes on when we're talking about managed-care companies serving Medicaid recipients."

Perhaps ironically, Scott, the main backer of Medicaid privatization, was forced to resign as head of a health-management company that pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts of Medicaid and Medicare fraud before he became Florida's governor.

Les Coleman, Public News Service - FL