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8 posts from March 1, 2013

March 01, 2013

Milliman releases follow-up report on pension fund, waives its fees

The company hired by the state to project the cost of closing the state's traditional pension plan to new employees released its updated report late Friday and waived its $70,000 fee for failing to use complete data the first time.  

"We recognize this was a significant mistake, resulting in confusion and a delay in your ability to accurately evaluate this important issue,'' wrote Stephen A. White, president and CEO of the Virginia-based actuarial company hired by the state. "We apologize for this error. It is inexcusable, and should not have occurred."  Download Milliman Follow-up Letter (1)

The new report includes 136 pages of analysis, including two different scenarios that give the state a ballpark estimate of the costs it can expect to incur when it closes the Florida Retirement System to new employees and sends them into 401k-style defined contribution plans. Here's the report: Download Close DB prospectively with baseline

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is hoping to use the results to determine how much it will cost the state to pay out benefits to employees in the current $136 billion system when there are no new hires to replenish the fund. He has made closing the fund to new employees a top priority this session because, he argues, the current system is unsustainable given the state's current budget structure, and will require a taxpayer bailout years into the future.

For the last decade, Florida lawmakers have increasingly relied on fewer state workers to do state jobs and used the budget to steer state work to private and non-profilt companies, reducing the number of employees paying into the retirement account. 

Unions oppose closing the defined benefit plan, arguing that it will eliminate one of the reasons people choose government work over similar jobs in the private sector. They also argue that the shift to a 401k -style pension plan will shift the risk of retirement planning from the state to employees. 


A first draft of 'Obamacare' insurance regulations

The Times/Herald has obtained an exclusive first draft of proposed insurance regulations that would help make Florida law compliant with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As we told you earlier, the House and the Senate have jointly hired consultant Brian Deffenbaugh to help with this task.

The draft language, which few lawmakers have seen yet, includes a grandfather clause, definition of a "small business insurance carrier" and outlines enrollment periods for health exchanges.

The bill draft also relaxes state rules in a way that would allow new federal standards to take hold, such as limiting the ability of insurance carriers to vary health premiums based on age and sex. This is a provision of the health care law aimed at standardizing how health insurers price products, but  industry watchdogs says it may cause healthy adults to pay higher premiums.

Download PPACA bill draft and tell us what you think.

Continue reading "A first draft of 'Obamacare' insurance regulations" »

Walking the talk: Miami Reps Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen among most-bipartisan

@MarcACaputo via NBC Latino

According to new ratings from National Journal, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), and Raul Labrador (Idaho), as well as Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas were near the ideological center of Congress, after an analysis of votes taken in 2012. Republican David Rivera of Florida also ranked near the middle but lost re-election last fall because of ethics, not ideology.

The most moderate Latino Member last year was Ros-Lehtinen, who has been in Congress for more than two decades and had a conservative rating of 49.3 percent last year (100 percent would be the most conservative Member of Congress). She added to her centrist credentials this week when she signed a legal brief, along with 75 other Republicans, that advocated for gay and lesbian couples’ right to marry.

Her Florida colleagues, Diaz-Balart (52 percent conservative) and Rivera (53.7 percent), also ranked as two of the more moderate House Members, along with Herrera Beutler (56.2 percent) and Labrador (58.2 percent), both of whom were first elected in 2010. Labrador has received some national attention for his efforts to push his party to a more moderate position on immigration (even though he still opposes a path to citizenship), but he consistently gets excellent marks with conservative, anti-tax groups.

The Barack Obama-Rick Scott sequestration blame files: HUD, DOD, HHS cuts


Two days ago, Gov. Rick Scott wrote President Obama attacking the Democrat for the federal-spending cuts known as the sequestration:

"If your administration fails to do its job to responsibly manage the budget, thousands of Floridians will lose their jobs under sequestration. There is no doubt that budget cuts must be made at the national level, just as we do here at the state level. But, it is the responsibility of the administration to administer spending reductions responsibly. Instead of cutting with a scalpel, your sequestration process is a meat cleaver..."

Now, the administration is responding with a series of blame-Congress letters. Under the 2011 debt deal hammered out between Obama and Congress, the sequestration cuts kicked in because Congress couldn't come up with a deficit-reduction agreement.

Scott's administration was today sent multiple letters concerning cuts to Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and Housing and Urban Development. A sample from the HHS letter:

"As you are likely aware, due to the failure of Congress to reach a deal on balanced deficit reduction to avoid sequestration, a series of spending cuts called sequestration will cancel approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the federal government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year….

"In the context of sequestration, an estimated 2,700 children in your state are expected to lose access to head Start and Early Head Start services as a result of a reduction of $15.8 million in funding. The funding reduction could disrupt services for children and families, as some Head Start centers would need to close their classrooms early this school year or reopen their programs late in the fall. Programs may have to cut services, staff, and classrooms of the current school year in order to operate under the reduced funding level. This impact would be felt by community and faith-based organizations, small businesses, local governments, and school systems forced to lay off teachers, teacher assistants, and other staff."

Earlier, Scott in Orlando said the first cuts should be experienced by Obama and Congress:

“You know right now, this is the first day of sequestration. I don’t believe Congress or the President should continue to get paid while they haven’t solved this problem. We’ve had to balance our budget in our state. We’ve had to watch how we spend money. We’ve had to live within our means. And we didn’t do it with a meat cleaver; we did it with a scalpel. We watched what we could do agency by agency. The federal government needs to do the same thing. They should not be paid while they don’t solve this problem.”

And on it goes.

The letters:

Download Letter to President Obama

Download DOD

Download HHS

Download HUD

Atwater: wait to expand Medicaid, forgo the money

Jeff Atwater may not be calling everyone's attention to his opposition to Gov. Rick Scott's plan to expand Medicaid in Florida as Adam Putnam has, but the Republican chief financial officer is on the same page.

"This is going to obligate us to either in future years to a legislature that will significantly change the tax code or this takes (away from) education dollars, transportation dollars and everything else," Atwater told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board today. "I look at the general revenue stream. It will not carry this. It's just that simple."

Florida would be better off watching to see how it plays out for at least a couple years — even if it means forgoing 100 percent federal funding of the expansion — before plunging ahead without more questions answered and alternative options developed.

"I understand all the compassion. I'll put my record up against anybody when I was in the Legislature," he told the editorial board, which agrees with Gov. Scott that expanding Medicaid makes the most sense for Florida.

Legislators hire Deffenbaugh to write health care laws

One of the many complications of the Affordable Care Act is how the changes in health insurance regulations put the state's laws out of whack with new federal standards. As with other aspects of the health care law, state lawmakers have resisted addressing these issues and now find themselves with few options and a ticking clock.

Enter Brian Deffenbaugh, a veteran around the Capitol whose career in state government began in 1978. He is being paid $8,000 a month for five months to advise both the House and Senate on insurance issues, especially as it relates to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The contract began in January. (Click here to read the contract details.)

Deffenbaugh will help both chambers draft legislation that brings state law into alignment with the new federal law. Officials from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation said Thursday that Deffenbaugh has been meeting with the insurance industry as he creates draft language.

It's a touchy issue. Some legislators have complained that the state's insurance regulations have stronger consumer protections than the new federal law. State insurance regulators say they are receiving pressure from insurers to keep as much power at the state level as possible because they have a distaste for the federal bureaucracy. 

Deffenbaugh has served as an attorney or staff director for various Florida House and Senate committees. Most recently, he worked as senior counsel at the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate's office. Before that, he served as director of ethics at Citizens Property Insurance.

State delays new Medicaid expansion estimates

State analysts have postponed their meeting to discuss updated cost estimates if the state were to expand Medicaid. But that won't stop House and Senate committees studying the health care law from meeting Monday and possibly making a recommendation about what Florida should do.

"There are many other aspects to Medicaid expansion beyond the numbers that we were expecting from the revenue estimating conference," said Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate special committee.

That doesn't mean Medicaid expansion won't still be high on the discussion list. Negron points out that lawmakers have more to discuss than the cost of adding 900,000 unisured, low-income Floridians to the program. They also will be looking at how hospitals would be affected if the state decides to pass up on the federal dollars to expand Medicaid, since other cuts are coming down the pipeline no matter what.

The Legislature also might want to dig into how other states are tackling the issue. For example, lawmakers in Arkansas received federal approval to use their Medicaid expansion dollars to send people to health exchanges to shop for private insurance. In Indiana, the governor has asked the federal government to use the state's health plan for low-income residents instead of traditional Medicaid.

The meeting to discuss new Medicaid expansion cost estimates was rescheduled for Thursday. Ryan Duffy, spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford, said the committees have plenty of information even without updated numbers. State estimators last revised Medicaid expansion projections in December.

"They've spent the law few months gathering all the facts," Duffy said. "We do have numbers that we are comfortable with."

Rep. Nuñez to Gov. Rick Scott: Fight Miccosukees to block chance of golf-course casino


State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez is enlisting Gov. Rick Scott in an effort to stop the Miccosukee Tribe from getting the chance to turn a Kendall Lakes golf course into a casino.

The tribe acquired the land in 2001 and then, years after it applied, the U.S. Department of Interior last summer granted the tribe’s request to turn it into “tribal trust land,” which effectively makes it sovereign land outside the control of Miami-Dade County or the state.

Miami-Dade objected, fearing that the golf course could be converted into a casino.

Nuñez said in a letter she sent late Thursday that, as she understands the law, Scott could ensure the land doesn’t become a casino if he objects. She said the Interior secretary, who would have to approve the gaming endeavor, would need to find that a casino would be in the best interest of the tribe and that it wouldn’t harm the surrounding community.

“I am not confident that the Federal Government would take into account the detrimental effects to the surrounding community,” Nuñez wrote. “Therefore, I am respectfully urging that you oppose any and all attempts by the Miccosukee Tribe to further their gambling footprint in this residential area that would be negatively impacted by such an establishment.”

Here’s the background and here’s Nuñez’s letter. Download Nunez