Thursday, June 9, 2011

Florida governor signs historic Medicaid bill

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed two historic Medicaid bills Thursday, placing the health care of nearly 3 million Florida residents into the hands of for-profit companies and hospital networks.

Lawmakers said the program was overwhelming the state budget and needed to be privatized to rein in costs and improve patient care. Critics fear the bills build on a flawed five-county experiment where patients struggled to access specialists and doctors complained the treatments they prescribed were frequently denied.

State Sen. Joe Negron, who spearheaded the overhaul, said leaders have learned from the pilot program's shortcomings and it now includes increased oversight and more stringent penalties, including fining providers up to $500,000 if they drop out. The measures also increase doctors' reimbursement rates and limits malpractice lawsuits for Medicaid patients in hopes of increasing doctor participation in the program.

The bills (HB 7107 and HB 7109) also require providers to generate a 5 percent savings the first year, which could save the state about $1 billion.

The plan divides the bill into 11 regions where managed care plans and hospital networks will bid on contracts to serve certain regions. Critics worry the regions are too large and that patients will have to drive long distances to see doctors. The House originally proposed eight regions.

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