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Healthcare Funding Panel Meets Again


Gov. Rick Scott's Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding meets for the second time on Tuesday in Orlando. The panel is sifting through mounds of data, to determine whether hospitals that receive tax money are being managed efficiently.

During last week’s inaugural meeting, commission members were incredulous when learning that 72% of all services provided by one facility -- UF Health Jacksonville -- were Medicare or Medicaid — that is, paid for by tax dollars. Chairman Carlos Beruff asked the state Agency for Healthcare Administration for help in sorting out the data.

“We’re just getting into this, but are you [ACHA] or somebody going to help us dive into these numbers, and help point us in directions that we should be looking?” asked Beruff. “Because we could talk about every single number without knowing if the number is good or bad.”

The Florida Hospital Association issued a statement saying hospitals have a long-established partnership with the state to report such data routinely. None of the 46 hospitals affiliated with Columbia HCA – including West Florida Hospital in Pensacola -- responded to the Governor’s request. Calls by WUWF to HCA’s office in Tallahassee were not returned.

Mark Faulkner, President and CEO of Baptist Healthcare, says they were cooperative with Gov. Scott’s call for information on finances, services, and patient results, and supplied the bulk of what was requested.

“There were certainly some questions that could be perceived as sensitive information, but we certainly that,” said Faulkner. “There were a few areas that were a bit ambiguous with respect to the request. So we along with many other hospitals are seeking additional clarification.”

The CHHF’s membership -- largely made up of Gov. Rick Scott's Republican donors and allies from the business community -- has drawn criticism from a number of groups. Coming to the panel’s defense is Florida’s Surgeon General John Armstrong.

“They have been responsible for negotiating benefit packages for themselves, and for thousands of employees in our state,” said Armstrong. “They have, or currently serve, on a variety of boards to include a managed care plan and nursing home board. [There’s] a member who’s the chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine, and a member who provides pro bono work for the League Against Cancer.”

Many of the commissioners' questions mirrored concerns that Scott – a former CEO of the for-profit hospital chain Columbia HCA -- has raised in the past, with support being voiced early on for deregulation and increased competition.

Meanwhile, there could be some movement on the Low Income Pool. LIP provides money to treat people unable to pay. Florida’s share is $2.2 billion, and the federal government is offering a one billion dollar compromise. LIP is scheduled to expire June 30 – something Baptist Health Care’s Mark Faulkner hopes does not happen.

“For us it’s approximately a seven million dollar negative impact,” said Faulkner, “That, obviously, causes us to dig deeper with respect to programs and services, and try to identity as much cost-reduction to offset that impact.”

If accepted, the one billion dollars would fill a hole in the state budget for next fiscal year, and possibly ease – if not end – the impasse between the Scott and Obama administrations. The Legislature returns to Tallahassee next week in special session, to try to hammer out a new spending plan, and a solution to health care funding.