Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medicaid Reform Panel Hears Clashing Opinions; Some Think the Pilot Program Works, Others See Erratic Service

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medicaid Reform Panel Hears Clashing Opinions; Some Think the Pilot Program Works, Others See Erratic Service

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY COX

Two disparate depictions of Northeast Florida's Medicaid reform experiment emerged Tuesday at a public meeting in Jacksonville.

Officials with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration described the program as a promising work-in-progress. They said it gives consumers a chance to pick a plan that suits them best, shows signs of saving the state money and scores highly in recipient surveys.

Two of the three people who spoke publicly at Tuesday's meeting offered a more critical assessment. They said the program has helped make profits for managed-care companies while limiting services to vulnerable children and poor adults.

The allegations suggested that although state lawmakers are seeking to extend Medicaid reform's life on the First Coast, the pilot continues to rankle many physicians and patient advocates.

"Before you expand to other areas, let's fix some of the challenges we have in the five current counties," said Veronica Valentine, CEO of the Child Guidance Center, a mental-health clinic with several Jacksonville-area locations.

Facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers last session considered two proposals to expand the 4-year-old reform experiment beyond Baker, Broward, Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. Unable to reconcile the bills, they settled on asking the federal government to extend the current program until 2014.

Medicaid reform essentially privatizes the state and federal insurance program for the poor. It places recipients into private managed-care plans of their choice and offers them credits for healthy behaviors that can be cashed in for certain health products at drug stores.

"The objective was to mirror more the commercial sector," said Roberta Bradford, the state's deputy secretary for Medicaid.

The state must turn in an application by June 30 or risk losing $1 billion in federal funding to help finance health-care for the poor. In the meantime, AHCA officials are traveling the state seeking public input on the program. …

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