Lower LIP Funding Sets Stage For Session Debate

May 22, 2015

Florida can anticipate about $1 billion in funding for a health-care program at the center of a state budget standoff, a high-ranking federal official wrote in a letter Thursday, giving lawmakers a better idea of what to expect when they begin a special session next month.

The estimate provided in the letter from Vikki Wachino, director of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, would mark a reduction of about $1.2 billion in the program, which is known as the Low Income Pool, during the budget year that begins July 1. Funding for LIP would then likely fall to about $600 million in later years, Wachino wrote.

The letter also provides a list of options Florida could use to offset the drop in LIP, which sends money to hospitals and other medical providers that care for large numbers of low-income patients. Wachino suggested that the state boost the rates it pays hospitals for treating Medicaid patients.

“We note that this ($1 billion) level of funding for the LIP, coupled with the options the state may elect at its discretion described in this letter, would enable Florida to retain Medicaid investment in the state at or above the current $2.16 billion level of LIP funding,” she wrote.

The federal decision on LIP would extend the program past its current June 30 expiration date and could provide the Legislature with a way out of the budget impasse. Lawmakers are expected to begin a special session June 1 to resolve the spending plan.

But cutting funding for the program could also harden some divisions at the Capitol. Senate leaders have pushed for the state to offset the loss of LIP funds by using federal Medicaid expansion money to help lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance — an idea adamantly opposed by House Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott.

If the state has to instead offset the loss by backfilling the hole with tax revenues, that could eat into funding for other priorities, like public education and tax cuts.

“I think it confirms the magnitude of the potential backfill number to make the system whole, and I think it sends a very strong message about the expiration of LIP over time,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said of the federal letter.

Lee and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, argued that the size of the cut in LIP backs the chamber’s insistence on expanding health-care coverage.

“While the letter from CMS outlines a number of policy alternatives, none of these options will allow Florida to maximize both state and federal taxpayer dollars in a more effective manner than by reducing the number of uninsured Floridians seeking basic health care in hospital emergency rooms,” Gardiner wrote in a memo to senators. “Clearly, a conservative free-market expansion of health care coverage is the most fiscally responsible approach.”

But Scott and the House have opposed expanding Medicaid in any form. The disagreement between the House and Senate on the issue in part caused the impasse that saw lawmakers adjourn the regular annual session without a budget in place.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told his members in a memo that the House was still reviewing Wachino’s letter and would provide a more thorough response later.

“Until then, I believe the clear indication before the special session is Florida will receive a significant level of LIP funds, which will help us in our efforts to finish the budget by the July 1 deadline,” he wrote.

House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, indicated late Thursday he favored a plan that would use state money to make the hospitals whole. The House had pitched a similar idea near the end of the regular session, when lawmakers were unsure what the final size of the LIP program might be.

“Now, the great news is that we’re able to do that with finality,” Corcoran said.

Speaking to reporters at Taylor County’s Perry Primary School, where he was visiting, Scott seemed to once again rule out the idea of a state Medicaid expansion plan.

“The Senate’s plan would cost our taxpayers $5 billion over the first 10 years,” Scott said. “If you look at history, health-care programs in almost every case cost way more than what people thought in the beginning.”

Scott also said he hadn’t decided whether to drop a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, to bar the agency from considering whether the state has expanded Medicaid while weighing a decision on LIP.

Attorneys for the two sides agreed Thursday to extend until June 1 a deadline for federal officials to respond to Scott’s request for an injunction in the lawsuit.

In her letter, Wachino tried to emphasize that while LIP and a coverage expansion are related, whether Florida expanded Medicaid wasn’t a factor in the federal government’s decision.

“Regardless of whether a state expands, uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would be covered in a Medicaid expansion,” she wrote. “Therefore, the state’s expansion decision does not affect the size of the LIP itself.”

House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, applauded the agency for its decision in the face of the lawsuit.

“Despite Gov. Scott’s lack of planning, hostile public relations campaign and frivolous litigation, CMS has acted in the best interests of taxpayers and the people of Florida,” Pafford said.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Wahoos Beat Jackson

May 22, 2015

Zach Vincej came into Thursday’s game hitting .200 with only one run-batted in for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

However, the shortstop went 2-4 on the night, launching a three-run line drive over the left field wall that gave him his first homer of the year and raised his average to .220.

Vincej’s homer also lifted Pensacola to a six-run sixth inning and a victory, 8-5, in the opening of the five-game series with the Jackson Generals in front of 4,227 at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.

Vincej, who was coming off of seven days on the disabled list with a left wrist contusion, said it felt good to get all of the hanging curveball from Jackson reliever Jordan Shippers, who was pounding him inside with fastballs.

“I’ve had a couple frustrating months myself personally,” Vincej said. “I had to remind myself it’s a long season and you just have to be resilient at the end of the day. I knew I got a good piece of it. It was a nice feeling. I’m glad everything worked out.”

Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said a home run is a home run.

“It was great,” said Kelly, whose team is now on a 10-4 winning streak since May 7. “Fortunately, they give you the same number of points whether it goes over by an inch or 100-feet. Zach has had a tough time. But since he’s spent time on the DL, he’s been swinging the bat well since he has come back.”

Six of the Blue Wahoos eight runs – the most they’ve scored in a game this season – came from the bottom four batters in the order: third baseman Juan Perez, Vincej, DH Cam Maron and left fielder Juan Silva.

“We had six RBIs and six runs scored from the bottom of the lineup,” Kelly said. “That’s huge. Now, everybody is kind of on a roll.”

Jackson went ahead, 3-2, in the top of the sixth inning on five walks, four by Pensacola reliever Layne Somsen who lasted 0.1 innings and was charged with the runs.

That’s when the Blue Wahoos came right back with six straight runners on base, who all scored to put Pensacola back on top, 8-3.

“We’re believing in each other,” Vincej said of Pensacola, which improved to 18-23 on the season. “If they put three, we can put up three, as well. We have to keep our confidence going.”

Scott: Lawmakers ‘Know My Priorities’ For Special Session

May 21, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott resumed his push Wednesday for a massive tax-cut package and a “historic” increase in school funding, downplaying a call for agency heads to prepare for a bare-bones budget.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a good special session,” Scott said when asked about the state having to scale down to its critical needs if lawmakers fail to hammer out a budget before July 1.

Though the House and Senate continue to have a sizable divide over health-care funding as they head into next month’s special session, at least some lawmakers appear to want to please the governor when it comes to tax cuts. Scott proposed a $673 million tax-cut package early this year, and the House later offered a $690 million plan.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said tax cuts will be “a priority” for the upcoming session.

“The Finance and Tax Committee will be tasked to come up with a bill to reflect the Legislature’s new joint budget number, which has not yet been determined,” Crisafulli said in an email Wednesday.

The Senate remains a little more guarded as Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, continues to work with his chamber to draft a schedule for the session that begins June 1. Senate leaders did not offer a full tax-cut package during this spring’s regular session, though Senate committees advanced individual tax-cut bills.

“The question has been how to balance a desire to reduce taxes against other priorities, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding health care funding,” Katie Betta, Gardiner’s spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday.

The Senate has proposed spending $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money to help hundreds of thousands of lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance.

Senate leaders argue that could help in negotiations with the federal officials over the future of the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool, or LIP, program. LIP mostly sends money to hospitals and other health providers that care for large numbers of low-income residents. The LIP program is scheduled to expire June 30, unless federal official approve an extension.

Scott has joined the House in fiercely opposing any health-care expansion funded through the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Scott deflected questions Wednesday when asked if he’d threatened to veto a budget that fails to include his top session priorities. When pressed, Scott repeated that the House and Senate are aware of his priorities, which include higher per-student funding for public schools. His tax-cut plan is dominated by a proposed reduction in the communications-services tax on cell-phone and pay-TV bills.

“I want to continue what I’ve done every session, which is to work with the House and Senate to work on the problems of our state,” Scott told reporters in Tallahassee. “They know my priorities.”

Scott’s statement is less pessimistic than the outlook he offered when interviewed May 10 on FOX News. During that interview, he said the tax-cut package and proposed increase in education funding could be in jeopardy if the health-care battle kept the Legislature from completing a budget by June 30.

“We won’t put more money into schools, which I wanted to do,” Scott said during the FOX News interview. “We won’t cut taxes, which I wanted to do. We’ll just leave the money there and deal with it in our next session, which starts in January.”

Since then, budget leaders from the House and Senate started meeting to discuss the special session. On Friday, House and Senate leaders formally called the session, which could last from June 1 to June 20.

During this spring’s regular session, the House voted 112-3 to approve its tax-cut package. The package included Scott’s call for a 3.6 percentage-point reduction in the communications-services tax, totaling about $470 million in cuts.

The House proposal would have also eliminated sales taxes on college textbooks and made a series of other tax cuts, including reducing a tax on commercial-real estate leases from 6 percent to 5.8 percent and providing a three-day sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.

Along with his focus on tax cuts, Scott has requested increasing per-student school funding to $7,176, a roughly $261 per-student increase from the current year. Scott’s per-student funding would be $50 higher than the previous high in the 2007-08 budget year.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday sought to build support for that idea, voting unanimously to once again call on the Legislature to provide record funding.

“I’d like to also remind everyone here and the legislators that we actually have a surplus this year, and let’s not forget that,” said outgoing Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand. “I know there’s some issues with the health care, and the Legislature’s coming together to work that out.”

But Chartrand also indicated that schools should come before Scott’s other signature proposal.

“There’s also tax cuts that have been proposed, and I would hope that we would fund education first before we moved in any other direction,” he said.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart highlighted the state’s recent gains in areas like high-school graduation and said that funding was “absolutely critical” to continuing the momentum.

Stewart also said school districts had been forced by tight budgets in recent years to be more careful in figuring out which funding initiatives should take priority.

“I think the time is the right one,” she said. “Everything is set in place for this Legislature to do the right thing by education in the state of Florida and really invest in the economic development of our state through the education system.”

by Jim Turner and Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Northview Grad Robinson Signs Pensacola State Basketball Scholarship

May 21, 2015

Neino Robinson, a 2014 graduate of Northview High School, signed a basketball scholarship Wednesday with Pensacola State College.

The Florida Association of Basketball Coaches  named Robinson to the 2013-2014 Boys Class 1A All-State first team.

Robinson, was the only public school player from Escambia County named to any of the associations’ all-state teams in an classification. Players were selected based on in-person evaluations, a review of all-area teams selected by media from around the state, and recognition from the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Florida Association of Basketball Coaches includes coaches from the high school, junior college and four-year college levels.

Mississippi Downs Pensacola

May 21, 2015

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Mississippi Braves played five games that all went down to the wire at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.

If you didn’t care who won, it was entertaining baseball. Die hard Blue Wahoos fans, though, left disappointed.

This time the Braves scored four runs on four hits in the top of the ninth inning to go ahead and win, 5-2, in front of 3,207 fans Wednesday. Mississippi took the series, 3-2.

The first three games between the two teams were all decided by one run.

“We’ve played some really good ball games,” said Pensacola Manager Pat Kelly of his team that fell to 17-23 and remain in fourth place in the Southern League South Division. “We had a chance to win all five. Mississippi is a good ball club and we stayed even with them.”

Pensacola center fielder Beau Amaral lined what looked like the game-winning, solo home run just over the right field wall in the seventh inning that put the Blue Wahoos ahead, 2-1. Amaral went 3-5 on the night with a stolen base, his fourth of the season.

However, Mississippi chased Pensacola reliever Zack Weiss in the ninth when first baseman Corban Joseph singled to drive in two runs to put the Braves up, 3-2. Then center fielder Mallex Smith singled to drive in two more with two out, making the final score, 5-2.

Mississippi scored first in the second inning with two out when starting Pensacola pitcher Wandy Peralta walked two and then gave up a single to second baseman Eric Garcia that drove in third baseman Rio Ruiz to go ahead, 1-0.

Blue Wahoos catcher Yovan Gonzalez scored in the third inning to tie the game, 1-1, on second baseman Ryan Wright’s single to center.

Peralta threw six innings of two-hit ball and gave up just one run but he walked six batters.

“When he continues to control his emotions he can stay in the ball game,” Kelly said. “Earlier this season, if he threw nine straight balls, he never would have finished that inning.”

Escambia Holds Hurricane Drill

May 21, 2015

A hurricane drill was held Wednesday at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center, giving local officials a chance to practice their response to a hurricane slamming into the Escambia County. Hurricane season begins June 1. Courtesy photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Republican Congressmen Call For LIP Extension

May 21, 2015

A dozen Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation — including Jeff Miller — sent a letter this week to President Barack Obama calling for continuation of the Low Income Pool health-funding program. The letter from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and 11 U.S. House members took issue with efforts by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to link funding for the LIP program with an expansion of Medicaid in Florida.

The $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program, which is scheduled to expire June 30, sends additional money to hospitals and other providers that care for large numbers of uninsured patients.

Uncertainty about the future of the so-called LIP program has played a key role in a budget impasse in the state Legislature.

In the letter to Obama, the congressional Republicans described linking LIP to Medicaid expansion as an “inappropriate overreach” and listed major hospitals that would be hit hard by a loss of LIP money.

“The well-being of Florida’s low-income families will remain in jeopardy until your administration approves funding for these vital health services,” said the letter from Rubio and congressmen Vern Buchanan, Jeff Miller, John Mica, Dennis Ross, Gus Bilirakis, Ron DeSantis, Ted Yoho, Rich Nugent, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo and Tom Rooney.

by The News Service of Florida

Ernest Ward Middle Presents Year-End Academic Awards

May 20, 2015

Ernest Ward Middle School recently presented the following academic awards for the 2014-2015 school year:

Language Arts

  • 6th Highest Academic Average – Amber Gilman
  • 6th Most Improved – Madalin Roberts
  • 7th Highest Academic Average – Ashlan Harigel
  • 7th Most Improved – Aaliyah Pope
  • 8th Highest Academic Average – Madison Kemp
  • 8th Most Improved – Aurora McCann

Reading

  • 6th Highest Academic Average – Libby Pugh
  • 6th Most Improved – Travon Brown
  • 7th Highest Academic Average – Emily Boutwell
  • 7th Most Improved – Travone Smith
  • 8th Highest Academic Average – Tori Herrington
  • 8th Most Improved – MaKayla Dunsford

Math

  • 6th Highest Academic Average – Hannah Hughes
  • 6th Most Improved – Travon Brown
  • 7th Highest Academic Average – Ashlan Harigel
  • 7th Most Improved – Lydia Davis
  • 8th Highest Academic Average – Jarius Moore
  • 8th Most Improved – Sean Wilbanks
  • Algebra Highest Academic Average – Austin Smith
  • Algebra Most Improved – Larry Philyaw

Science

  • 6th Highest Academic Average – Libby Pugh
  • 6th Most Improved – Joseph Hunter Franklin
  • 7th Highest Academic Average – Ashlan Harigel
  • 7th Most Improved – Aaliyah Pope
  • 8th Highest Academic Average – Austin Smith
  • 8th Most Improved – Hayley Black

History

  • 6th Highest Academic Average – Amber Gilman
  • 6th Most Improved – Andrew Cook
  • 7th Highest Academic Average – Ashlan Harigel
  • 7th Most Improved – Kelly Johnson
  • 8th Highest Academic Average – Kaylin Glenn
  • 8th Most Improved – Rebekah Amerson

P.E.

  • 6th Outstanding Achievement – Justin Miller
  • 8th Outstanding Achievement – Shelby Sloan

Agriculture

  • Outstanding Achievement – Katie Buford &  Emma Fennell

Culinary(Hall)

  • Outstanding Achievement – Morgan Lathan

Manufacturing

  • Outstanding Achievement –  Keegun Johnson

Business/Graphic Arts

  • Outstanding Achievement – Meredith Morgan

Band/Chorus

  • Advanced Chorus Outstanding Achievement – Kaylin Glenn & Ashtyn Carnley
  • Beginning Chorus Outstanding Achievement – Mary-Paige Nassar (6th grade)
  • Band Outstanding Achievement – Justin Cruce

Duke Talent Search Awards (7th Grade)

Keaton Brown

Presidential Awards (8th Grade 3.5 GPA  or higher)

  • Destiny Braddock
  • Christopher Johnson
  • Hayley Walker
  • Jazmine Norman
  • Anthony Day
  • Emma Fennell
  • Jacob Borelli
  • Olivia Seals
  • Taryn Janes
  • Aubree Love
  • Rebekah Amerson
  • Tanner Levins
  • Morgan Lathan
  • Hannah McGahan
  • Keegun Johnston
  • Alexander McMinn
  • Delaney Reynolds
  • Aaliyah Tucker
  • Austin Adams
  • Gabbrielle Peebles
  • Meredith Morgan
  • Kaylin Glenn
  • Seth Killam
  • Shelby Sloan
  • Zachary Prosser
  • Justin Cruce
  • Ashtyn Carnley
  • Dalton Hamilton
  • Austin Smith
  • Madison Kemp
  • Lydia Smith
  • Katie Buford
  • Aurora McCann
  • Nikoal Creamer

Take Stock in Children

  • Ian Gifford, Ashten Wright & Teriana Redmond

Ruritan Award

  • Shelby Bashore

Cox Hero

  • Madison Kemp

Principal’s Award 6th Grade – Korben Creel

Principal’s Award 7th Grade – Steven Cotita

Principal’s Award 8th Grade – Hadden Barlow

6th Grade A Honor Roll

  • Hannah Hughes
  • Savannah Doremus
  • Libby Pugh
  • Shelby Godwin
  • Maille Kilcrease
  • Amber Gilman
  • Sophia Cotita
  • Emily Stabler

7th Grade A Honor Roll

  • Kayla McKillion
  • Ian Gifford
  • Micah Calhoun
  • Keaton Brown
  • Ashlan Harigel

8th Grade A Honor Roll

  • Austin Smith
  • Kaylin Glenn
  • Seth Killam
  • Dalton Hamilton
  • Shelby Sloan

A-B Honor Roll Awards

6th Grade A-B Honor Roll

  • Kaley Lashley
  • Benjamin Ward
  • William Wilson
  • Conner Byrne
  • Taviana Parker
  • Summer Waters
  • Abigail Nelson
  • Tyler Ray
  • Kenna Redmond
  • Cody Thomas
  • Autumn Williams
  • Madison Peterson
  • Ariel Ward
  • Bryce Korinchak
  • Heather Knowles
  • Logan Bryan
  • Mary Nassar
  • Hailey Harigel
  • Maggie Amerson
  • Makayla Garrett
  • Nathaniel Mickel
  • Abigail Levins
  • Ireland Maharrey
  • Rebecca Fuller

7th Grade A-B Honor Roll

  • Ansleigh Maholovich
    Raleigh Woodfin
  • Kinzie Rackard
  • Teriana Redmond
  • Savannah Roley
  • Trevor Bomba
  • Savannah Spence
  • Brianna White
  • Karlee’ Criswell
  • Bailey Van Pelt
  • Cloe Smith
  • Nicholas Trump
  • Emily Boutwell
  • Lauren Ahern
  • Kelley Bradley
  • Josiah Stilwell
  • Anna King
  • Colby Morris
  • Addison Albritton
  • Marissa Rothrock

8th Grade A-B Honor Roll

  • Austin Adams
  • Kristopher Baxter
  • Aubree Love
  • Gabrrielle Peebles
  • Aaliyah Tucker
  • Morgan Lathan
  • Delaney Reynolds
  • Meredith Morgan
  • Taryn Janes
  • Justin Cruce
  • Tanner Levins
  • Marissa Bullington
  • Larry Philyaw
  • Jacob Borelli
  • Zachary Prosser
  • Alexander McMinn
  • Ashtyn Carnley
  • Emma Fennell
  • Destiny Braddock

Information provided by Ernest Ward Middle School.

Cantonment Student Named National Merit Scholarship Winner

May 20, 2015

A Cantonment resident has been named a National Merit $2,500 Scholarship winner.

Olivia Y. Liseth iis one of Florida’s finalists to have the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills, and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The number of winners named in each state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the  nation’s graduating high school seniors.

Liseth attends Pensacola High School. She is planning for a career in medicine.

Police Seek Suspects In iPad Thefts

May 20, 2015

The Brewton (AL) Police Department is seeking assistance in identifying the individuals pictured. They are suspected in the theft of several iPads from the Brewton Walmart. Anyone with information on their identities is asked to call Lt. Brock Holt at the Brewton Police Department at (251) 867-3212 or their local law enforcement agency. Photos courtesy Brewton Police Department for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

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