AHCA asks for more money to cover legal bills

By The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Pointing to an “unprecedented” number of lawsuits, the state Agency for Health Care Administration is asking the Legislature for nearly $1.4 million in additional funding to help pay costs associated with using outside counsel next year, according to a budget document.

“The AHCA continues to experience an unprecedented number of lawsuits in federal, state and administrative courts in which it utilizes outside resources (Office of the Attorney General and outside counsel) to assist with the management of the increased workload,” the budget document said.

AHCA has between 1,000 and 1,300 administrative challenges annually and has 2,000 active administrative cases. Because of the level of activity, the state has had to use outside lawyers.

The request for additional funding comes as the state continues defending decisions about awarding new five-year Medicaid managed-care contracts, which, in all, are worth $90 billion.

The decisions drew a bevy of legal challenges, many of which were settled. But AHCA had to defend in administrative court a decision to deny contracts to Positive Healthcare, a subsidiary of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and the South Florida Community Care Network, a provider-sponsored health plan owned by two hospital districts in Broward County.

Rulings in those cases are pending.

Though costs are mounting, AHCA said legal cases cannot be transferred from private counsel back to state lawyers during litigation without possible adverse effects.

“The AHCA needs additional resources to ensure that it is in the best position to vigorously defend each case as well as meet court-designated timelines,” the budget document said.

AHCA is asking for an additional $1,391,770, but only half of it would come from state coffers. The remaining 50 percent would be federal matching Medicaid funds.

In addition to needing more money to cover costs of outside attorneys, AHCA also wants more money to increase what it pays in-house attorneys.

AHCA conducted an analysis of what the state pays attorneys at various agencies, according to the budget document. The analysis showed that the average salary for a senior attorney at AHCA is $62,555, less than the overall average salary of $65,350. Junior attorneys at AHCA also are paid below what the statewide average salary.

As a result AHCA is asking the Legislature for $575,765 in salary and benefits next year to increase compensation for its attorneys.

News Service of Florida