Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nelson touts health-care vote -- and his Gator aid

Sen. Bill Nelson’s statement on today’s health-care vote:

“During these many months of debate over health-care reform, my goal has been to pass legislation to make coverage affordable and available to everyone.

“Regardless of where we stand on specifics, I think most can agree the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

“While the Senate bill I voted for isn't perfect, it has many good elements.

“It will prevent insurers from dropping the sick and stop them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. It also will reduce the deficit. And it includes one of my amendments to protect 800,000 seniors in Medicare HMOs all over Florida.

“Congress still has to merge this bill with the House version. And I’ve told negotiators I want them to close the "donut hole" gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage.”

And this from our Washington correspondent Lesley Clark on Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog:

Nelson's amendment to grandfather Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in Florida has drawn criticism as one of the goodies ladled out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to get the legislation passed. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that Capitol Hill critics have dubbed it "Gator Aid."

But PolitiFact notes that Florida seniors wouldn't be the only ones covered.

"Specifically, the money targets communities and areas where the cost of service is highest and allows those people to use the old rules," PolitiFact writes. "The language in the health care bill, which begins on Page 894, never mentions Florida or any specific state. Rather it creates a difficult-to-follow formula to determine just who should be protected from the changes.

"We should note that Nelson's provision wasn't a last-minute addition. The Medicare Advantage exemption was included in the health care reform bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee in October.

"We'll also note that the Senate Finance Committee widened the pool of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries protected from the new rules. The total additional cost is expected to be around $7.5 billion over 10 years, (Nelson spokesman Dan) McLaughlin said. Independent analysts at the Kaiser Family Foundation say the protections will cost around $5 billion between 2012 and 2019.

"So who benefits? Floridians for sure.

"Florida will definitely be treated more generously than most other states," said John Rother, executive vice president for policy and strategy for AARP.

"But not just Floridians. Of the 1 million or so Floridians participating in Medicare Advantage, about 800,000 are expected to be protected from possible cuts. But so are people living in New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Oregon, McLaughlin says. A spokesman for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., confirmed that New Jersey seniors also will benefit from Nelson's protections to Medicare Advantage.

"And Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said this: "We got a special protection worth billions of dollars to stop Medicare cuts for 800,000 New York seniors."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Florida vote split on Senate health-care legislation

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted to move ahead on health care legislation early today, while Republican Sen. George LeMieux voted in the minority against the action.

The two vying for LeMieux's seat -- Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio -- remain dead-set against the legislation.

Following are the senators' statements:

Sen. Bill Nelson’s statement on health-care vote:
“In voting to move a health-care bill forward, my main goal was to help pass legislation that'll make health coverage more affordable and available for everybody. And one of my top priorities remains protecting seniors. Recently, I was able to pass an amendment to the bill that excluded some 800,000 policyholders all across
Florida from cuts to Medicare Advantage.

“I believe that no matter where people stand on certain specifics of this complex issue of reforming health care, most all of us should agree the current system can be unfair and too costly. It’s broken – and, it needs to be fixed.
“The legislation in the Senate certainly doesn’t have everything l want, like forcing
drug companies to lower prices for prescriptions covered under Medicare or allowing seniors to import lower-cost drugs from Canada. But no piece of legislation does.
“And when it comes to health care reform, we can't afford to sit by and do nothing anymore.
“I firmly believe this legislation will provide more affordable coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, prevent insurance companies from dropping folks who get sick and stop them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The legislation
will also help reduce the country’s deficit.”

And from LeMieux's web site:

Republicans are continuing to fight against Democratic health care reform proposals, which would cut your Medicare, raise your taxes, and threaten your health care choices. We believe that any health care reform legislation should lower costs and expand access without raising your taxes or adding billions of dollars to the deficit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rubio catches up with Crist in new poll

A new Rasmussen poll shows that the race for GOP nomination for Florida's U.S. Senate seat is now a dead heat between once-seemingly-invincible Charlie Crist and the once-seemingly-only-a-long shot Marco Rubio, with each coming in at 43 percent.

Earlier polling gains for Rubio, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, might have been due, in part, to delays by the governor in responding to challenge posed by his younger, less-well-known rival. But recently, Crist's campaign has gone on the offensive, raising questions about Rubio's record and his supposed conservative credentials.

For his efforts, Crist, with the backing of the national Republican establishment and a big fund-raising lead, is locked in a tie. The governor's support has dropped from 53 percent in August to 49 in October.

“The fact that Crist has fallen below 50 percentin a primary against a lesser known opponent suggests potential vulnerability,” Rasmussen Reports states.

Conversely, Rubio's numbers have improved as his name-recognition has increased. In August, his support was at 31 percent.

For more details about the poll's findings, go here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Governor's office's phone blooper gets steamy

Tiger Woods isn't the only newsmaker whose voice mail message has gotten him into trouble this week.

Editors at the Bradenton Herald are always reinforcing with reporters the importance of double-checking the telephone numbers they might include with their stories, since readers depend on us to provide them with correct information.

And we don't want to be embarrassed like Gov. Charlie Crist had to be when it was revealed this week that because of a phone number mix-up, Crist for some two months had been encouraging callers wanting more information about the Florida KidCare health insurance program to call a phone sex line.

Unlike Woods, Crist wasn't trying to organize a cover-up of his own bad behavior, but you'd have to think the governor's tan got a little darker this morning if he happened to catch the folks at "Morning Joe" having a good laugh at his expense over the mix-up.

The governor's office has corrected the mistake, but you can hear it all here, via the Palm Beach Post.

For the record, the correct number for more information about KidCare is (888) 540-5437.

We double-checked.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Manatee legislative delegation to meet Dec. 15

The Manatee County legislative delegation will hold its annual meeting Dec. 15 to "hear presentations on proposed local bills, general presentations, and constituent issues," according to a news release.

Just don't go before legislators with your hat in hand. Florida's budget crunch means once again, lawmakers will not be able to return from Tallahassee with funding for local projects.

The release continues:
"(P)lease be advised that the delegation will not be receiving or hearing any budget requests as directed by the following statement issued by the Senate President:

'Given the continuing fiscal challenges our state is facing and our need to focus efforts on solutions to balance the state’s budget, we will not be opening the Community Budget Issue Request System (CBIRS) this year. With the further decline in state revenues, it is my desire to avoid creating unrealistic funding expectations.'"
For more information or for those seeking to be placed on the delegation agenda contact Margaret Clark at (941) 727-6349 or by e-mail at