Q&A with Rep. Paul Renner

By Stuart Korfhage Originally posted on The St. Augustine Record

Rep. Paul Renner was one of St. Johns County’s three legislative representatives swept into office in the April 7 special election.

He joined newly elected Rep. Cyndi Stevenson in the Florida House and Sen. Travis Hutson in the Florida Senate.

Renner holds the seat in House District 24, which includes the southern portion of St. Johns County, all of Flagler County and the northwest section of Volusia County.

The Republican is in the second month of his first term after taking over for Hutson, who resigned to run for the Senate.

Keeping Renner and the rest of the Legislature busy is the process of working out the state budget. The debate and negotiation about the funding of the Low Income Pool (LIP) and the issue of Medicaid expansion have forced a special session Monday.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) released a statement Friday on the issue: “Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) indicated to the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) they are considering providing Florida with significant LIP funding for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Fiscal Years. At this time, the Legislative and Executive branches are analyzing the impact that this may have on health care provider funding.”

Renner stopped by the office of The St. Augustine Record on Friday to discuss that issue and his first few weeks as a member of the Legislature.

This is an abridged version of Renner’s question-and-answer session with The Record:

Q: What was it like starting your first term as a state representative right in the middle of session?

A: We had to leave the election party early (April 7) and go to Tallahassee. Got in ultimately about 2:30 in the morning early Wednesday morning. Got sworn in Wednesday afternoon and started voting an hour later.

Cyndi (Stevenson) and I both had kind of a trial by fire, but I’m happy to say that we were both able to inherit some bills from our predecessors and pass those out. My first bill was to help St. Johns River State College in reorganizing the way we select trustees. The governor has now signed that bill. (HB 759 — Florida College System Boards of Trustees; companion bill SB 446 passed.)

Q: What direction do you feel we need to go in with the expansion of Medicaid/LID issue? Where do you think we’re going to go as a state?

Where I think things will go this year? I think with the federal government coming back and reaching a compromise of sorts to partially re-fund or renew funding of LIP around the $1 billion level will, I hope, allow us to have a soft landing in the budget process. That will, I hope, accommodate the needs that we have in our health care fund this year.

Now we’re back to the point where I think we can get a reasonable budget that meets the basic needs that Floridians expect us to fund and have a resolution that we can be comfortable with.

Your second question is about where we should go. I don’t think that Medicaid expansion is the right solution. But that’s a different thing from saying we shouldn’t be seeking solutions. I think the goals are really the same no matter who you talk to, and that is: How do we reduce the cost of health care so that more people who can’t afford it can afford it?

I think the key difference is between coverage — you can hand someone a piece of paper that says you have insurance coverage. That doesn’t necessarily lead to healthy outcomes or doesn’t necessarily mean good insurance. And Medicaid as a program has been dysfunctional. It pays very low reimbursement rates. Many doctors don’t want to see patients on Medicaid. There’s no real natural incentive to limit costs.

It’s a program that already needs reform before we can get to the point of looking to expand based on that platform.

Q: What are the major concerns of constituents?

A: As far as the community goes, it depends on where you are.

(He mentioned education, health care and law enforcement issues)

Q: Have there been any surprises to the job?

A: No, I think it’s been rewarding. There’s a way to really make an immediate positive difference for our local community, for our state every day you’re there — if you apply yourself. And that’s what I intend to do. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a process to meet everyone in the community. I’m pretty active in the area as well as Flagler and Volusia counties. It’s great. We’ve got a lot of great people in our community. I’m just looking for ways I can help.