Tarren Bragdon, the president of a new Naples-based right-wing policy group, touted the state’s controversial Medicaid reform plans and Florida’s welfare drug testing law during an event held last week by the American Legislative Exchange Council (known as ALEC).

Bragdon’s “free market” think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, has so far declined to disclose the source of its funding. Bragdon has previously said that ”initial donors who were interested in having [him] here” in Florida were responsible for his move to the state. Bragdon had worked in Maine, where he found significant political power running a similar right-wing think tank.

In the few months that the Foundation has been in Naples, one of the group’s pamphlets was included in the state’s defense of a controversial law requiring temporary cash assistance applicants to undergo a drug test before receiving benefits. The law was recently stopped from being implemented; the Foundation’s pamphlet was deemed “not competent expert opinion” by Judge Mary Scriven.

The Foundation has also set its sights on influencing Florida’s 2012 legislative session.

ALEC  is a conservative nonprofit made up of state legislators and business leaders that writes model bills and resolutions to help businesses and weaken government programs. The group meets somewhat clandestinely, but much of its legislation has crept into state legislatures all over the country. Florida’s GOP-led Legislature has had a significant presence at the group’s events and has followed through on some ALEC-endorsed strategies to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the state.

ALEC is also known for having deep ties to the Koch brothers — billionaires who have spent millions funding groups that promote free market policies. ALEC has been one of their biggest projects.

Bragdon’s previous employer, the Maine Heritage Policy Center, also had ties to Koch-funded groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute.

According to a press release from the Foundation about the ALEC event:

Bragdon presented his research on Florida’s five-county Medicaid Reform Pilot, which expanded plan choices for patients, covers more health services than any other Medicaid program in the country, and achieves better health outcomes and higher patient satisfaction among participants.  The Reform Pilot, which began in 2006, has also saved Florida taxpayers an estimated $118 million annually.

A planned statewide expansion of Florida’s Medicaid Reform is pending approval of waiver requests submitted by the State to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Statewide expansion would save taxpayers up to $901 million every year.  If Florida’s Medicaid Reform were replicated nationwide, Medicaid patients would be healthier and happier, and American taxpayers would save up to an estimated $28.6 billion.

“As other states struggle with Medicaid crises, Florida has found a cure with its Medicaid Reform Pilot,” Bragdon said.

Bragdon’s group also recently sent a letter to federal health officials, lobbying for approval of the state’s Medicaid reform plans.

Florida’s program overhaul would move Medicaid beneficiares into private managed care plans, expanding a program that has been implemented the past few years in a handful of counties.

Bragdon’s report is currently one of the only studies touting the success of the Medicaid Reform Pilot. His study claims the Pilot program has “improved the health of enrolled patients, achieved high patient satisfaction, and kept cost increases below average, saving Florida up to $118 million annually.” Georgetown University has reported that the Reform Pilot has not shown any clear signs of saving money.

Bragdon also defended Florida’s welfare drug testing law during the event.

Via the group’s press release:

Bragdon also discussed Florida’s welfare cash drug testing law, which requires applicants to pass a drug test before collecting taxpayer funded welfare cash. In October, after just three months as law, activist federal Judge Mary Scriven suspended the law based on personal ideology rather than fact.

Prior to Scriven’s pro-addict ruling, 19 percent of otherwise eligible applicants received a drug-related denial for failing to prove the welfare cash they sought would be used to support kids and families, not illegal drug addiction. During its first three months, these drug-related denials resulted in an estimated savings of $1.8 million to Florida taxpayers. Governor Rick Scott has appealed Scriven’s ruling.

“Welfare cash drug testing is a common sense solution to help protect children of drug addicts,” Bragdon explained. “Our limited welfare dollars should not be used to fund addiction. Scriven’s ruling has put Florida children at greater risk.”

Scriven, a George W. Bush appointed judge, said that “even a cursory review of certain assumptions in the [FGA’s] pamphlet undermines its conclusions” during her explanation of why the pamphlet was thrown thrown out.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the welfare drug testing law, the measure has received significant voter support in Florida.

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