The Florida Senate is starting to consider a new Medicaid system it could put into place if Congress gave the state a block grant and freedom to run the program with limited federal involvement, Senate President Joe Negron said Tuesday.
It's a change Negron, R-Stuart, said he hopes could expand health coverage to more than half a million Floridians caught in the "coverage gap" -- people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance of their own.
"I think that gives us a lot more flexibility with our Medicaid system and hopefully would, I think provide an extraordinary opportunity for the House and the Senate to look at ways to perhaps make health insurance available to men and women who get up and go to work every day in Florida but maybe can't pay the full cost of their health insurance," Negron said.
Turning Medicaid into a block grant system is popular among conservative thinkers, and the idea has been endorsed by President-elect Donald Trump. In Florida, Negron said, it could allow the state to operate health insurance for low-income people on its own terms.
Critics say leaving coverage open to the states could mean new restrictions that have at times been opposed by the federal government, such as work requirements or limitations on who can be covered.
In Florida, expansion of health coverage could dredge up a brutal fight between the House and Senate on a program to subsidize insurance for low-income Floridians. That showdown culminated in House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, leading a walk-out the final week of session and a special session to pass the still-unresolved state budget.
But Negron said he hopes the House would be more open to a block grant program run by the state.
And he's already asked Senate Health Policy Chair Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Senate Health Care Appropriations Chair Anitere Flores, R-Miami, to create a "framework" for a new Medicaid program.
"What I'd like to see us in the Legislature do, particularly in the Senate ... is to start building the framework for what a block grant program would look like now that there's a reasonable chance that would happen," Negron said.