Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Politics

Senate committee approves measure to protect trauma centers, cap fees

TALLAHASSEE — After rushing through public testimony and debate, a Senate committee approved a bill that protects three HCA-owned trauma centers but also caps the activation fees they can charge patients.

The Senate's Health Policy Committee approved SB 1276 with a 7-2 vote, with one Republican and one Democrat in opposition. The bill allows trauma centers at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County to remain in operation despite legal challenges by hospitals.

It also creates a one-year, $15,000 cap on trauma response fees in Florida and establishes a one-year moratorium on new trauma centers. A yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that HCA's average trauma response fee — a charge meant to offset the cost of high-tech care — is $28,000, by far the highest in the state.

HCA has 25 registered lobbyists in Tallahassee to represent its interests, but on Tuesday some testimony on its behalf came from Ocala officials and residents speaking up for their hospital. None of them expressed any concern about costs.

The company now has five Florida trauma centers and wants to open more.

It is unclear how the Senate bill's moratorium would affect those plans.

Also, HCA's Orange Park Medical Center was forced to close its trauma center in February 2013 because it fell short of state standards. The Senate bill could help that center to reopen, a lobbyist for safety net hospitals argued.

"The language here today very likely could grandfather in Orange Park, a trauma center that has been reviewed and determined by the agency not to meet the quality standards that you enacted," Mark Delegal said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, accused Delegal of spreading misinformation about the Orange Park hospital, but the lobbyist countered that he was only pointing out loopholes in the bill. Sen. Denise Grimsley, the Sebring Republican who authored an amendment creating the fee cap and moratorium, said the intent is not to allow Orange Park to skirt the rules. She said she would be willing to address Delegal's concerns, but the committee didn't entertain any changes during the meeting.

The dissenting votes were cast by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Joyner criticized the size of the trauma fees, saying "they run the gamut from ridiculous to super ridiculous." She also said it would be wrong to increase the number of trauma centers in Florida, both because of cost and because too many centers would dilute the quality of care.

"We don't need that many trauma centers," she said. "There has got to be another way."

Bean said he disagreed with the Legislature stepping in while court cases were pending and state agencies were still considering the disputes. "There are just so many questions still surrounding trauma, but it passed," he said after the vote.

The three HCA centers are being challenged by long-standing trauma centers, including Tampa General Hospital, that contend the state acted improperly in allowing them to open.

Grimsley said she hopes the bill can help end the costly court battle.

The House's version, HB 7113, solely focuses on the grandfathering issue and doesn't have the moratorium or cap on fees. Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, said she hopes the House version will be amended to mirror what the Senate has done.

Contact Tia Mitchell at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected]

Comments
Temple Terrace candidates disagree on measure to change size of City Council

Temple Terrace candidates disagree on measure to change size of City Council

TEMPLE TERRACE — The four candidates for Temple Terrace City Council are split two-to-two on proposed city charter Amendment No. 1, to change local government from five voting council members and a non-voting mayor to four voting council membe...
Published: 10/23/18
Trump says US will pull out of intermediate range nuke pact

Trump says US will pull out of intermediate range nuke pact

ELKO, Nevada — President Donald Trump says he will pull United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.Trump says Moscow has violated the agreement, but provided no details.The 1987 pact helps protect the security ...
Published: 10/20/18
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Published: 10/19/18
Hernando commissioners face Democratic challengers, questions about contributions

Hernando commissioners face Democratic challengers, questions about contributions

Early voting begins Oct. 24.
Published: 10/19/18
Three weeks before election, tax foes organize to fight transportation measure

Three weeks before election, tax foes organize to fight transportation measure

TAMPA ó No Tax for Tracks is putting the band back together.The group that campaigned against the failed 2010 transit referendum in Hillsborough has regrouped to fight a proposed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike for road, bus and transit projects. ...
Published: 10/19/18
Carlton: How a shortage of candor could tilt a commission race (Bribery scandal? What bribery scandal?)

Carlton: How a shortage of candor could tilt a commission race (Bribery scandal? What bribery scandal?)

In one of the most interesting local races around, first-time candidate Mariella Smith, a Democrat, looks like sheís got a longtime politician on the ropes.But forget, for a minute, that Smithís opponent is veteran Republican Hillsborough County Comm...
Published: 10/19/18
Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

For such a sacred document, we seem to give little thought to scribbling on, erasing and haphazardly expanding the Florida Constitution.Since a revised version was established in 1968, Florida voters have been asked to consider more than 175 differen...
Published: 10/18/18
Florida House District 67 candidates agree education is a priority, but disagree on what to do about it

Florida House District 67 candidates agree education is a priority, but disagree on what to do about it

Democrat Dawn Douglas says charter schools pull money from public education, while incumbent Republican Chris Latvala backed bill that sent construction money to charters.
Published: 10/18/18
In House 36, it's youthful incumbent vs. life-experienced activist

In House 36, it's youthful incumbent vs. life-experienced activist

Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, faces her first re-election test since her upset win two years ago.
Published: 10/18/18
Daniel Ruth: For Hillsborough voters, transportation tax is leap of faith they can ponder while stuck in trafffic

Daniel Ruth: For Hillsborough voters, transportation tax is leap of faith they can ponder while stuck in trafffic

Perhaps one way to approach the ongoing community-wide debate over imposing a one-cent sales tax to pay for a variety of transportation needs is to think of all this dickering as a sort of family Thanksgiving dinner that has suddenly turned into a Th...
Updated: 26 minutes ago