CITIZENS HAVE THEIR SAY ON MEDICAID; Lawmakers Listen to Those Who Need Program's Help Panel Has Been Seeking Ideas for Medicaid Reform

Article excerpt

Byline: CHERIE BLACK, The Times-Union

Sondra Mallow stood in front of a panel of state senators and representatives in Jacksonville Monday and pleaded for her children's illness to be recognized under the Medicaid waiver.

Her three children suffer from a rare genetic disease called familial dysautonomia, where those affected don't produce tears and, among other problems, are developmentally delayed. Mallow said she and her husband spent more than $30,000 on medical bills last year and want the disease to be included on the list of diseases covered by Medicaid.

Overcome with tears, she stopped briefly to compose herself before continuing to explain her dilemma.

"What about those people not listed, those of us with special-needs kids?" she said. "When you ask for help and you don't get it, what do you do?"

Mallow was one of more than 200 people, mostly Jacksonville-area providers and Medicaid recipients, who attended a joint public hearing on Medicaid reform at Florida Community College at Jacksonville's Downtown Campus. The standing-room-only event was held for the public to tell members of the Senate and House Select Committees on Medicaid Reform how they may be affected by proposed changes to Florida's Medicaid program, and to suggest ways to reduce rising Medicaid costs while continuing to provide needed services to Florida's elderly and disabled.

The series of five forums began in February in Tampa and stopped in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Panama City before making its final stop in Jacksonville. The committees are now scheduled to recommend to their respective chambers changes to the state's Medicaid program.

Medicaid is a federally funded health plan providing insurance for more than 39 million people nationwide. Insurance companies offer Medicaid HMO products through agreements with the federal government. The approved insurers offer Medicaid plans that often have additional benefits such as prescription drug coverage at a reduced cost.

One by one Monday, residents stepped in front of a microphone for a strictly enforced two-minute limit to plead their case for or against changes. Rustin McIntosh, whose daughter suffers from bipolar disorder and is on Medicaid, and whose grandson suffers from Down syndrome and "wouldn't be alive today without Medicaid," said he supports reform but wants to make sure it's the right kind.

"Politically, I'm not in favor of doling out money and assistance, but as a taxpayer I don't mind paying taxes if they're used the right way," he said after his turn in front of the panel. …