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Florida Panel Rejects Federal Funds For Elderly

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(Source: CBS)

(Source: CBS)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBS4)-A Florida legislative panel Friday rejected millions in federal money designed to help remove patients from nursing homes and provide them with similar care in their own homes.

The Legislative Budget Commission also approved incentives of $4.5 million and $3 million for two undisclosed businesses considering moving to or expanding in Florida and agreed to consolidate and outsource state e-mail service as a cost-cutting measure.

The panel turned down a $2.1 million federal grant that would have fully paid for administrative costs to pave the way for Florida to receive an additional $35.7 million in federal Medicaid funding. Those dollars would pay for nursing home diversions of disabled and elderly patients over the next five years.

The money was offered this year to Florida and 12 other states as part of the federal health care overhaul law that Florida is challenging in court. They were invited to join 29 states and the District of Columbia, which already participate in the Money Follows the Person demonstration program.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, had recommended accepting the grant although he’s been a leading opponent of the federal law, but the GOP-majority commission rejected it on a split vote.

Members from the Senate voted 4-3 to accept it, with two Republicans and two Democrats in favor and three Republicans against. The proposal died, though, because House members opposed it on a straight party-line 5-2 vote. Such budget amendments must get approval from both chambers’ commission delegations.

Rep. Robert Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said the federal program, which tracks individual patients, is unnecessary and duplicates Florida’s existing nursing home diversion efforts.

Commission chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican who also heads the House Appropriations Committee, agreed.

“I realize that they are federal dollars, but they are also taxpayer dollars,” Grimsley said.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston had urged the panel to accept the grant, which was expected to result in about 1,700 nursing home transfers.

“Anyone that is pulled out would save us Medicaid money in the long run,” Rich said. “It also would put people in a better place.”

The commission’s approval is needed for spending authority not included in the annual state budget.

The economic incentives, code-named “Project Equis” and “Project Christmas,” won unanimous approval although some members were uneasy about the secretiveness.

“This whole process gives me heartburn,” Rich said. “There’s no transparency here.”

It’s going to get even more secretive after July 1, when a new law gives the governor authority to offer incentives up to $5 million without the commission’s approval.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who chairs a budget subcommittee that oversees economic development spending, said Rich had a point. Gaetz said the governor’s office will be asked to present an economic development business plan to legislative committees this fall so lawmakers will have a better idea of how the “quick action closing funds” will be used.

Some lawmakers also had issues with the e-mail consolidation plan although it, too, passed unanimously.

David Taylor, executive director of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, estimated the state will save $9.4 million to $15.3 million over seven years, but Grimsley said she wasn’t convinced.

Grimsley said the agency was late in presenting some information and kept changing its numbers. The commission’s staff also was unable to replicate the estimated savings.

“The difficulty that we had with the numbers and the performance of your agency, quite frankly, create uncertainty and discomfort,” Grimsley told Taylor.

She voted for the proposal, however, after noting Scott and Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, supported it. Grimlsey also said most states are going in the same direction.

 

(© 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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