Scott budget takes it easier on hospitals

By Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has clashed repeatedly with the state's hospitals and earlier this year asked for nearly $1 billion in Medicaid reductions, released a spending plan Tuesday for 2018 that does not advocate additional cuts to the industry.

That's not to say, though, that hospitals were unscathed in the governor's proposed budget.

Scott's proposed $87.4 billion spending plan does not recommend replacing $50 million in state hospital funding that expires June 30 when the current fiscal year ends. Because the funding was matched with federal Medicaid dollars the total reduction hospitals face is $130 million.

In a prepared statement Tuesday, Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida Executive Vice President Lindy Kennedy said “it is a relief” to see that Scott didn't recommend another steep round of cuts to Medicaid spending.

Though the Legislature didn't endorse all of Scott's proposed budget cuts last year, it did agree to take $651 million from hospitals for treating the state's poor, elderly, disabled and pregnant women.

“Currently, hospitals on average lose 40 cents on every dollar of care provided to patients enrolled in Medicaid,” Kennedy said in the statement. But Kennedy said her association will ask the Legislature to plug the potential hole.

`To think Florida hospitals can continue to withstand these deep cuts without any workforce consequences or impact on services is shortsighted and wishful thinking,” she said.

Scott's budget proposal is only a recommendation. The Legislature is charged with developing and passing a state budget. The General Appropriations Act is the only bill lawmakers are required to pass each year.

Scott's budget also would approve upward of $1.5 billion in spending authority for the Low Income Pool program, which helps provide care for low-income and uninsured patients.

The supplemental Medicaid money has traditionally been funded by local money that receives a match from the federal government. The $1.5 billion in spending authority would be about twice as large as what the LIP program is funded at for the current fiscal year. But it remains unclear whether the state will reach that level because of not enough local money.

Scott's budget also would continue funding for the Florida KidCare subsidized insurance program, though Congress has yet to reauthorize it.

What his budget doesn't include: additional Medicaid funding for generators. The Florida Health Care Association, a leading nursing home group, has been pushing for Medicaid funding to offset the costs of the generators that could help keep nursing homes cool when power goes out.

The governor has made increasing health-care “transparency” a priority and to that end is asking the Legislature to earmark $925,000 for a tool that would allow the state to better analyze the health claims data submitted by Medicaid HMOs and insurance companies that participate in the state group health plan.

News Service of Florida