Hospital group: Plan could divert Hillsborough money to state pool
A Florida Senate hospital payment proposal could divert millions of dollars meant for Hillsborough County’s poorest residents into a statewide pool, a hospital advocacy group said Thursday.
The budget committee plan would reallocate roughly $26 million in federal funds now tied directly to Hillsborough’s longtime half-cent sales tax. The sales tax currently helps cover preventative and acute treatment for local Medicaid clients and poor, uninsured residents.
Instead, the money from Hillsborough and about three dozen other counties with similar taxes would be used to reimburse hospitals across Florida for Medicaid patient care, said Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. About 30 counties wouldn’t contribute.
“The Senate is clearly taking more money from the local communities and giving it to others,” he said of the plan approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The 14-hospital alliance, which includes Tampa General Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, instead supports a state House budget plan that doesn’t move sales taxes from local communities.
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he isn’t surprised legislators proposed such an idea. It’s likely the commission will speak to Senate leaders about the plan, he said.
“They have a history of passing down unfunded mandates and targeting local governments for their budget challenges,” Hagan said.
Commissioner Sandra Murman, a former state legislator, said the debate will evolve as the budget moves through its final weeks. There has to be a limit to how much local taxpayer dollars are used for statewide efforts, she said.
“Obviously this would be devastating, losing $26 million in our community,” she said. “It’s hard to understand ethically how they would draw down our local dollars.”
The Senate sales tax proposal is just one part of the massive overhaul of the way the state repays hospitals for treating poor patients. Carvalho said Senate calculations are simplified to the detriment of the state’s teaching and children’s hospitals.
Florida’s six statutory teaching hospitals stand to lose more than $69 million next year, including $6.2 million at Tampa General, an Alliance analysis says. The House plan adds funding to the six hospitals, which are responsible for training many of the state’s new doctors and treating a disproportionate share of poor patients.
The two stand-alone children’s hospitals would lose more than $10 million next year in the Senate proposal, the analysis shows. That includes $6.9 million at All Children’s, Carvalho said.