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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Garcia unveils hospital budget focused on safety nets



With the pot of money to reimburse hospitals for unpaid charity care shrinking this year, Senate leaders are proposing to heavily weight Low Income Pool spending in favor of the state’s safety net hospitals.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said Thursday that the hospitals that see the most charity care patients would be fully reimbursed for treating them with the numbers dropping steadily after that point.

“What we’re trying to do is push out the money to those that are providing the most charity care and help those hospitals that really are the safety nets in our communities,” Garcia said. “Those are the hospitals we rely the most on and we need to make sure they get reimbursed adequately.”

Under his plan, the second tier would receive reimbursement of 67 percent of their charity care, the third tier 7.5 percent and the bottom tier 1 percent.

Federal regulators shrunk the Low Income Pool to $608 million this year. That, plus $400 million in state funds the House and Senate agreed to last year make up much of the pot of money state lawmakers can use to reimburse hospitals as they write the budget.

Garcia wants to set aside an additional $7.3 million for specialty children’s hospitals, including $4.6 million for All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and $1.9 million for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.

Under new federal rules, Florida has to end a longstanding practice of guaranteeing hospital taxing districts’ investments in the Low Income Pool, which is funded largely by those local taxes and federal money. But Garcia said most of those hospitals will still see a return on their communities’ investment.

“The way we do that is to make sure that those that contribute the most … and those that provide the most services in charity care are the ones that are going to get reimbursed 100 percent,” he said.

A breakdown of how much money each hospital would receive under Garcia’s proposal has not yet been released, and House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples, announces his proposal Thursday afternoon.

Garcia’s proposed health and human services budget also puts $4.4 million into additional forensic beds at the state’s mental institution, including adding 43 full-time positions after reporting last year by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune highlighted violence and neglect at the hospitals as a result of understaffing and underfunding.

It provides $9.5 million for community health clinics, vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, although it maintains the governor’s recommended personnel cuts at county health departments.

The state budget is far from finished. Negotiations between the House and Senate have not yet begun, and Scott holds the power of the veto pen.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2016 12:16pm]


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