TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – With eyes on the proverbial clock, Florida lawmakers agreed on Sunday night to deep cuts to hospitals and other health care programs as part of their effort to reach a deal on a new state budget.
Lawmakers have until Tuesday to reach a final deal on a budget for 2012. That’s because state law requires the budget to be placed on the desks of lawmakers 72 hours before a final vote can be taken. The session is scheduled to end this Friday.
In addition to the health care cuts, legislators decided to set aside $2 million to put up large “real-time” signs that will warn motorists about dangerous driving conditions. The move is being made in the wake of a horrific crash in January that left 11 people dead on a stretch of Interstate 75 south of Gainesville that was covered with fog and smoke from a nearby fire.
House and Senate budget negotiators met the entire weekend, but they still have not reached a deal on how to parcel out $300 million worth of cuts to the state’s 11 public universities.
Negotiators did agree to finalize most spending decisions for the state’s Medicaid program and other health and human service programs.
They agreed to cut reimbursement rates for hospitals by more than 5 percent, although some rural and children’s hospitals will be spared from the cut. Lawmakers also agreed to a slight cut in rates for nursing homes and a small cut in mental health and substance abuse programs.
“I’m still not happy with it,” said Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who is the House budget chief. “I have a fundamental problem cutting those programs since they feed into so many other programs.”
Budget negotiators also decided to reject more than $438 million in federal money that would have gone to paying doctors more for treating Medicaid patients. The Senate had included the money in its initial budget proposal but House Republicans said the money was tied to the controversial federal health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama. Florida is one of nearly 30 states challenging the overhaul in a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, said rejecting the money was a needless political statement.
“To me it’s appalling,” Rich said. “We are just turning away dollars other states are taking.”
The roughly $70 billion budget remains one of the main outstanding issues left in the session that started in January. Legislators have also yet to reach deals on a fix for auto insurance that remains a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott.
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