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Jacksonville Senator Says Medicaid Expansion Unlikely In 2016

Florida State Senator Aaron Bean.
Ryan Benk

A Northeast Florida lawmaker is predicting Medicaid expansion won't be a factor during the next legislative session.

Senate Health Policy Chairman Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) said his focus will be on bringing down health care costs, rather than expanding coverage in 2016.

That’s because the federal government agreed to extend funding for uninsured patients through next year.

Speaking to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville on Monday, Bean said he’s not expecting another health care funding meltdown next year, but that lawmakers will begin planning to deal with the eventual loss of Low Income Pool program in the near future.

“It is time to roll up our sleeves and go ahead and prepare for the following year where they have already given us notice that they’re going to pull their funding completely,” Bean said.

The Medicaid expansion debate paralyzed the Legislature this year. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to cover a budget shortfall, with the federal government discontinuing its funding of the Low Income Pool Program, which helps hospitals pay for uncompensated care.

The Senate proposed a private-sector alternative to Medicaid expansion to make up for the loss of funds, but faced stiff opposition from the House who proposed a package of bills dealing with health care costs instead.

Lawmakers finally passed a budget during a special session after the feds agreed to extend the funding through 2016.

Now Bean says he’ll work with the House to control health care costs.

“I’ve already reached out to my counterpart — Representative chairman Jason Brodeur,” Bean said. “I’ve already asked could we meet together? Is it possible we could all come together and relook at all these programs to see can it deliver better care? Can it deliver better access? Can we get better results?”

Bean’s statements may signal that the upper chamber intends to move closer to the House when it comes to addressing health care next session.

Specifically, Bean wants to expand telemedicine and allow patients to pay primary care doctors directly without involving insurance companies.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.