Senator Alan Hays Says Senate President Mike Haridopolos Blocked $62 Million Workers’ Compensation Reform

Mar 20, 2012

The following article was published in the Sunshine State News on March 20, 2012:

Alan Hayes Voted Says Haridopolous Blocked $62 Million Workers Comp Reform

By Jim Turner

The failure of a single bill to reach the Senate floor — a controversial one that Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty claimed would lower workers’ compensation costs for businesses — doomed the “parent trigger” for school choice in the final days of the 2012 session.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, one of the original supporters of the Parent Empowerment Act, cast his vote against the act in the waning hours of the regular session on March 9, causing the bill, better known as the parent trigger act, to die in a 20-20 vote.

The act would have allowed parents to seek wide-ranging changes at low-performing schools, including changing a traditional neighborhood school into a charter school and giving parents an alternative to sending their children to “F” graded schools.

Hays took a firm stance against the parent trigger act in defiance of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who kept another of his bills, SB 668, workers’ compensation, from reaching the Senate floor.

State economists estimated — though they could never could back up with hard numbers — that SB 668 could have saved businesses collectively $62 million next year, with the state government’s impact from workers’ compensation claims dipping by $1 million.

Backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida but opposed by a health-care industry software company from Miramar, SB 668 cleared two committees, and narrowly survived the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations.

Haridopolos blocked both the bill from being added to the Budget Committee calendar and allowing the House-approved version of the workers’ compensation bill to be placed before the full Senate. Hays then took the position that he would vote against the parent trigger if workers’ compensation was not allowed to advance.

“The president, who said he wasn’t going to help or hinder the (workers’ compensation) bill when it got to budget, refused to release it,” Hays said.

Haridopolos was not immediately available for comment Monday.

The chamber also supported the parent trigger.
Chamber President Mark Wilson said he tried to change Hays’ mind on parent trigger, but gives Hays credit for showing a “backbone” in standing for his convictions.

“At the end of the day, what we really want from politicians in Tallahassee are people who are going to tell you what they are going to do and follow through on that,” Wilson said. “In Senator Hays’ view of the world, he had a commitment and that commitment was broken.”

Wilson said the chamber will continue to push for the parent trigger and for reform of workers’ compensation. 

He added that if the reason workers’ compensation wasn’t advanced in the Senate was because it would have failed, the chamber would have preferred to know which senators were opposed.

“I would have rather lost the vote, because then you know what you need to do,” Wilson said. 

This is the third consecutive year that a bill aimed at reducing the cost of medicine prescribed and dispensed out of a doctor’s office or health clinic, known as drug repackaging, failed either to get through the Legislature or beyond a governor’s veto. 

Former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 vetoed a measure that would have limited costs of physician-dispensed drugs to workers’ compensation patients, and a similar proposal died in 2011.

Opponents of the bill, including Automated HealthCare Solutions, a Miramar-based company that sells software used in dispensing, argued that the state can tell patients not to go to doctors who dispense medicine in their offices — it is the state’s call. The reason the state wants dispensing doctors involved is that patients are more likely to take medications — and get healthier faster — if they get their medicine at the time they are treated, rather than having to go to a pharmacy to get it.

But the biggest problem with SB 668 was that neither the insurance commissioner nor the insurance lobby could produce numbers to show the savings of capping the cost of repackaged drugs would approach anything close to $62 million. As Sen. Joe Negron said repeatedly, “I can’t vote for it.”

Automated HealthCare Solutions has donated nearly $2 million in the current and 2010 election cycles to legislators and campaign committees, with more than half going to the Republican Party of Florida.

Supporters of the bill claim growth in workers’ compensation costs has hurt small business.

This year, state officials have projected workers’ compensation costs to grow by 8.9 percent, with drug repackaging accounting for 2.5 percent of the increase.

As the bill advanced through the committee process for the 2012 session, Insurance Commissioner McCarty announced he would call for an immediate 2.5 percent cut in workers’ compensation costs once it became a law.

According to a Workers’ Compensation Research Institute report, the average payment per claim for prescription drugs in Florida was $536, the second highest average prescription cost per claim among 17 states studied.

What got tricky for senators on committees studying the bill, however, was information from the Office of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and before him Alex Sink: In 2010 the total bill in Florida for all physician-dispensed workers’ comp meds was $63.3 million. How, the senators asked, can we save $62 million of that? It would only leave $1.3 million to run one-third of a workers’ comp program in the fourth largest state in the nation. That would come to about $2.60 for every prescription.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the rating and statistical organization that files rates on behalf of workers’ compensation insurers in the state, claims that since 2003 physician-dispensed drugs have grown from 9 percent of the drug costs to 50 percent of the drug costs.

NCCI was one of the biggest behind-the-scenes players in Tallahassee this session. NCCI, fully owned by insurance companies, attempted to get a bill passed that would have eliminated the Florida statute that provides oversight of itself.