TALLAHASSEE — The amount of money the state says counties owe for unpaid Medicaid bills has been cut nearly in half.
New calculations from the Agency for Health Care Administration say Florida's 67 counties now owe $168 million to help cover Medicaid costs. That's down from $325.5 million.
Counties will be asked to settle their debts over five years starting in October. They could also chose to file an appeal in administrative court.
The news is better for some counties than others. As part of the revised estimates, 10 counties — though none in Tampa Bay — went from owing money to being owed money.
Pinellas County's share of the costs dropped from $28.3 million to $17.9 million, and Hillsborough County now owes $9.4 million, down from an initial $21.1 million.
In Hernando County, the bill dropped from $3.4 million to $1.6 million while Pasco County's bill decreased from $4.3 million to $4.1 million.
The Legislature ordered the state to begin collecting unpaid bills as part of its plan to balance the state budget in 2012.
After counties objected, saying the bills were the result of a faulty billing system and that counties would have to raise taxes, Gov. Rick Scott said counties would only have to pay what could be proven they owed.
The Florida Association of Counties is still suing over the unpaid Medicaid bills, claiming they represent an "unfunded mandate."
The suit also alleges that the backlog calculations include bills that are outside the four-year statute of limitations.
Some counties say the final bill remains wrong.
St. Johns County, for instance, says it owes nothing. The state says it owes $763,268.
"I'm not really happy about the process; they've changed the criteria all the way around," St. Johns County assistant administrator Jerry Cameron said. "The outcome of this appears not to be governed by the governor's promise" that counties only have to pay what is proven.
Medicaid is a health insurance program mainly for low-income families and the disabled paid for by a mix of federal, state and local dollars. More than 3 million Floridians participate in Medicaid at a cost of about $20 billion annually.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.