Senate committee seems to like Florida’s Medicaid reform program

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Christie Herrera from the Foundation for Government Affairs speaks to Senate Health and Welfare Committee members Thursday.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, was very direct in where he thinks Idaho should go with Medicaid reform: “Florida seems to be doing some very good things with Medicaid, bringing down the costs and improving patient care. I think we need to follow their lead.”

Heider, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and the other committee members had just been presented a Medicaid reform plan at their Thursday afternoon hearing from Christine Herrera. She serves as the vice president of policy for the nonprofit Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank group based in Naples, Fla.

Medicaid Cure allows for both for-profit and nonprofit health care provider groups to bid for the opportunity to serve Florida’s Medicaid patients. Providers are then paid by the state of Florida on a per-patient basis, rather than on a per-procedure rate.

According to Herrera, this incentivizes the service providers to concentrate on improving patients’ health and wellness, instead of motivating them to simply bill for more services. “Because of the competitive element, we’re seeing better access to care, better treatment outcomes and significant cost savings,” Herrera explained to the committee.

The Senate committee’s consideration of reform is very timely. On Monday, Gov. Butch Otter announced in his annual State of the State address that he did not wish to expand Medicaid eligibility, but rather, he wants to find ways to make Medicaid work more effectively and efficiently. “We have time to do this right, and there is broad agreement that the existing Medicaid program is broken,” he said during his speech.

Begun in 1965, the Medicaid program provides certain health care services to individuals and families with low incomes and limited resources. Financed with a combination of federal and state tax revenues, the expanding costs of Medicaid have in recent years become a topic of growing concern among the individual states, despite the eligibility of the program being based on a variety of means-testing processes.

“Florida’s Medicaid reforms are making patients happier and healthier at some of the lowest per-person costs in the country,” Herrera told the Senate committee members of the plan her organization champions. Herrera describes it as a “pro-patient, pro-taxpayer plan,” and claims that it is “bringing down Medicaid costs, and it is producing better, healthier outcomes.”

“I like the fact that Florida has implemented a free market solution to Medicaid,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “I want to study this more and learn more about it,” he told IdahoReporter.com.

Herrera also told the committee that Florida’s Medicaid patients are permitted to choose from among a variety of different health plans, and nearly 70 percent of the patients exercise this option.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, asked Herrera during the committee hearing how allowing patients these options can help contain costs, rather than escalate them. “The market competition that we’ve created among the health providers incentivizes them to price their services competitively and focus on patient care,” she responded.

“I think the governor’s working group (task force) on Medicaid reform provided him with some meaningful reform ideas,” Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, told IdahoReporter.com. “The ideas we’ve seen here at today’s committee meeting are very similar, although Florida is very different from Idaho, so we’d need to take these ideas and adjust them to fit our needs.” Schmidt was a member of Otter’s Medicaid task force, which worked throughout 2012 on Medicaid reform issues and policy.

Herrera believes that the Medicaid Cure plan can work in Idaho whether or not the state adopts a state-based insurance exchange program, as Otter has proposed. She said the plan is being adopted in states throughout the country, some of which have insurance exchanges and some that do not.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee meets again next week with Medicaid reform sure to be a major topic.

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