Published: Mar 01, 2011 9:52 PM EST
Updated: Mar 01, 2011 6:52 PM EST

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Democratic state Rep. Elaine Schwartz is holding a hearing to dissuade federal health officials from allowing state lawmakers to privatize Florida's Medicaid system statewide.

Federal officials attending Tuesday's meeting are deciding whether to extend a waiver that would allow statewide expansion.

Broward County is the largest of five counties participating in a 2006 pilot program implemented under former Gov. Jeb Bush that puts Medicaid recipients into privately managed care. Patients say they struggle to see specialists and get medication under the program.

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers want to expand the program statewide.

Lawmakers say Florida must overhaul Medicaid or its rising costs, which are expected to top $21 billion next year, will overwhelm the budget.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)