Private hospitals not entitled to indigent care reimbursement in Florida

In Florida, private providers appear to be shut out of getting paid for treating indigent patients, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A state appeals court has ruled that private hospitals operating in the county cannot receive taxpayer reimbursement for the indigent care they provide. Doctors Hospital, Englewood Community Hospital and Venice Regional Bayfront Health had sued Sarasota County in 2011, arguing that countfunds should reimburse a portion of their costs for caring for patients who have no means to pay their bill. The hospitals noted that a local hospital district was legally entitled to such funds, even though its hospital is publicly operated. All three hospitals are operated by for-profit chains HCA, Inc. and Community Health Systems.

The hospital operators lost at the circuit court level, which had ruled that a state law that could have permitted such payments was unconstitutional. That ruling was upheld by a three-judge appellate panel.

"We were confident the circuit court decision would be upheld, and based on this new ruling, taxpayers can be relieved they will not be responsible to pay in excess of $200 million in damages sought by the plaintiffs," Sarasota County officials said in a statement to the newspaper.

"We continue to support a methodology where the reimbursement follows the patient in need of care, rather than a facility," executives with the three hospitals said in a statement. In other states, such as New York, private hospitals can receive money from a special public fund to cover their indigent care costs, although that system has potential for abuse.

Florida and its privately operated hospitals have had a fractious relationship over reimbursents. The state is currently set to lose about $1.3 billion in annual Medicaid supplemental funds because of the state government's decision to transition the program into managed care. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has threatened to terminate any hospitals from Medicaid that have negotiated rates with payers his administration considers to be too high. Florida is also one of 20 states that have declined to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, depriving hospitals of billions in extra funds to pay for the care of poor patients.

To learn more:
- read the Sarasota Herald-Tribune article