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Proposal would give veterans another health option

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday backed a bill that could allow veterans and their families to have access to providers in Florida's Medicaid managed-care program as an alternative to tapping into the federal Veterans Health Administration.

Bill sponsor Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said he has been working on the idea for several years and that the goal is to increase access to home- and community-based services and mental-health services.

“For many years, the state of Florida has prided itself on being a veteran-friendly state,” Garcia told members of the Senate Health Policy Committee, which voted unanimously to approve the bill (SB 440).

Florida uses a network of Medicaid managed-care plans to deliver services to Medicaid patients, from infants to the elderly. Medicaid managed-care plans in 11 different areas of the state compete for contracts.

“We have a very robust Medicaid managed care system in the state of Florida,” Garcia said. “We thought, why not use the existing infrastructure to provide services to our veterans?”

To that end, the bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration to seek a waiver or other federal authorization approving funding for the program.

Though the proposal calls on using Medicaid managed-care providers, it would not be funded with state Medicaid dollars.

He said the goal is to have VA dollars funnel to the Medicaid managed-care plans.

Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, R-Tampa, said Hillsborough County has the largest veterans' population in the state.

“The opportunity for our veterans to have options for their health care is exactly what we need to be working on,” she said.