State House may not back cutting Medicaid program


Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 11:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - House Speaker Allan Bense said Wednesday that the House may be reluctant to follow Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to eliminate a Medicaid program that helps 36,000 low-income Floridians cope with catastrophic illnesses including cancer victims and dialysis patients.
When Bush unveiled his $61.6 billion budget for 2005-06 this week, he proposed eliminating the Medically Needy program July 1. It was part of more than $1.2 billion in Medicaid cuts in the governor's spending plan.
But in a meeting with newspaper editors at a pre-session forum sponsored by The Associated Press, Bense said while he agrees with the governor's overall efforts to reform the Medicaid program, which now accounts for 25 percent of the state budget, he may not support eliminating the Medically Needy component.
Bense, R-Panama City, said the program was designed to help the working poor meet their needs when a medical crisis exhausts their private insurance coverage.
"From the House's perspective, we want to help those folks who need help," Bense said. "The Medically Needy program is by no means not going to happen."
Bense and Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Medicaid would be one of the top issues when lawmakers convene in their 60-day annual session beginning March 8.
Bush wants to convert the health care program for the poor into a government-funded insurance system to curb some of Medicaid's escalating costs.
Lee, like Bense, said he supports the governor's reform effort. But Lee said he "would be surprised" if the program were eliminated.

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