According to new calculations from Florida's health care agency, the amount of unpaid Medicaid bills owed by counties has been cut nearly in half. That's good news for many counties that had been hit with unexpected big charges.
But Pasco County wasn't so lucky. Earlier, it was tagged with nearly $4.3 million in unpaid bills. The state trimmed that figure by about $200,000, meaning the county must still come up with $4 million.
For comparison, Hillsborough's share dropped from $21 million to $9.4 million, and the total for Pinellas went from $28.3 million to $17.9 million.
"Some counties got large amounts of Medicaid dollars written off," County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder said at a recent County Commission meeting. "We were not so fortunate."
So why didn't Pasco fare better?
Many of the disputed bills stem from out-of-county residents who were treated in Pasco hospitals. The state wrongly billed Pasco for those services. Such payments were deducted from Pasco's share.
But the reverse also happened. Many Pasco residents were treated in neighboring counties like Pinellas or Hillsborough. Once those payments were sorted out, they were added to Pasco's total.
Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes said she believes officials have accepted the revised figures as accurate.
That means Pasco won't see much budget relief as it also deals with property values that dropped by nearly 6 percent. Commissioners had tentatively agreed to an increased property tax rate that would bring in the same amount of taxes as the current year. But they had held out hope that the Medicaid bill would be reduced, allowing them to lower the rate increase.
This spring, the Legislature ordered the state to begin collecting unpaid bills as part of its plan to balance the state budget.
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."
Counties have five years to settle the unpaid bills. But Pasco must also begin setting aside more money for future years. The proposed county budget had earlier included an extra $4.3 million for Medicaid billing, though that figure will go down slightly. That covers both the first year's payment of back charges and higher bills for next year.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.