Legislature rejects federal grant money again

Jun 24, 2011

The following article was published in the Florida Current on June 24, 2011:

Legislature rejects federal grant money again

By Christine Jordan Sexton

Florida lawmakers on Friday rejected federal grant money that would have implemented a program meant to transfer people from nursing homes to community based care initiatives. 

The Legislative Budget Commission on Friday shot down a budget amendment that would have allowed the state Agency for Health Care Administration to hire staff and begin implementing the Money Follows the Person grant. The budget amendment would have authorized AHCA to spend $2 million, all federal dollars. Florida would have received $36 million over the life of the five-year grant.

An amendment must be approved by a majority of House members as well as a majority of Senate members. House members rejected the proposed amendment by a 2-5 vote and Senate members approved by the measure by a 4-3 vote. 

Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring and chairman of the budget panel, said she thought the administrative costs were too high and she said that the state has successfully been transferring patients from nursing homes into the community. Since 2009, she said, 1900 people have been moved from nursing homes back into the community.

“I realize they are federal dollars, but they are also taxpayer dollars,” Grimsley said.

Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, also opposed the amendment, telling members of the budget panel that the Medicaid overhaul just passed has similar goals and approving the MFP program would be duplicative. The new Medicaid law requires long-term care patients to be enrolled in managed care plans by October 2013. 

The MFP grant initially was rejected by the House this past session, which refused to include the authority in the 2011-2012 budget. The House rejected the grant at the time by saying it was part of the Patient Protection and  Affordable Care Act, or federal health care reform.

The state of Florida is leading a lawsuit against the federal health care reform bill.  Florida applied for a $1 million planning grant for a health information exchange but the Office of Insurance Regulation subsequently decided to return the grant after Gov. Rick Scott had been elected. Scott made his political name opposing the federal health overhaul.

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, was among a handful of senators who spoke in favor of the amendment, saying it would put “people in a better place.”

The budget panel on Friday did approve several other items, including a plan to overhaul the e-mail system for state government. This means that tens of thousands of state workers in the next few months will soon have a common set of e-mail addresses that end in the domain name of myflorida.com.

The state agency helping oversee the transition contends that the move to the centralized e-mail system — which would require the hiring of outside vendors to help — could save as much as $15.3 million over a seven-year period.

But Grimsley was open skeptical of how much money the state would save. She roundly criticized David Taylor, the state chief information officer and director of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, and said that his agency had given lawmakers conflicting information. She said she was voting to move ahead because she believed that a centralized system would produce some level of savings.

Under the plan approved on Friday there will be a phased-in changeover to the new system between October and the end of 2012. Under the migration plan developed by the state, the governor’s office and a large agency such as the Agency for Health Care Administration would switch over to the system in December 2011, while the Department of Health would change in February 2012.

The one executive agency that is not going to switch over is the Department of Legal Affairs, which currently uses IBM Lotus Notes to handle its e-mail as well as other agency functions. A top official in the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi in a letter to AEIT called the crossover both “functionally and economically prohibitive.”

The budget commission on Friday also signed off on a nearly $459,000 settlement that will end a six-year legal battle between a vendor and the Department of Management Services.

DMS in 2000 signed Loncoleman Corp. to a three-year contract to provide maintenance services at the sprawling Capital Circle office complex in southeast Tallahassee.

Due to a clerical error, Loncoleman was approved for monthly payments at the end of 2003 but did not get paid. The state, however, then discovered problems with the vendor’s work and withheld past and future invoice payments. The contract was terminated in March 2004 but later that year the company sued the state and won an initial victory in court in 2005. But then the state countersued Loncoleman.

DMS Secretary Jack Miles in early May agreed to a settlement to end the ongoing legal battles. DMS officials said they decided to settle the case because there is a substantial risk that an unfavorable verdict in the case would be larger than the proposed settlement.

The total amount of the settlement is equal to the November and December 2003 invoices plus interest of more than $174,000, according to a copy of the settlement.