Monday, August 20, 2018
Opinion

Column: Put patients before profits: protect our safety net hospitals

For decades, the most vulnerable Floridians have depended on the state’s safety net hospitals to save their lives and care for their health. Each year, these hospitals care for large numbers of low-income children, sick babies, senior citizens and pregnant women. Safety net hospitals provide a critical public service that the state has historically supported with vital funding.

Now, Florida’s for-profit hospitals want to raid $318 million in state tax dollars that goes to help these safety net hospitals care for those who need help the most. Hospitals owned by out-of-state corporations want to pad their profits with tax dollars that have long been used to safeguard Floridians’ health. These hospitals are asking the state Senate to risk the lives of our vulnerable residents in order to pump up their stock prices.

We respectfully ask our senators to consider our perspective that this is bad policy: If the for-profits get their way, the impact on the safety net hospitals would be devastating. For Tampa General Hospital, the largest hospital in the region serving those most in need, it would mean additional cuts of $14.4 million.

Other large safety net hospitals across the state would suffer massive cuts as well. For example, Jackson Memorial in Miami would be faced with cuts of $59.6 million, and UF Health Shands would face a $20.2 million cut. By comparison, the dominant for-profit hospital system in Florida, Hospital Corporation of America, would gain approximately $44.7 million in this redistribution of funding.

Hospitals lose money on every Medicaid patient they treat, particularly those in Florida. It’s well known that Florida has one of the lowest Medicaid per member per month allocations in the nation, reimbursing hospitals only about 60 cents for every dollar of hospital care. The $318 million that the for-profits want to take is now shared among 28 hospitals across the state where at least one of every four patients is on Medicaid.

HCA and its supporters argue that supplemental funding should go to any hospital for each Medicaid patient it sees, regardless of how many such patients are treated at that hospital. But there’s a huge difference between operating a hospital where 5 to 10 percent of patients are on Medicaid and one where 25 percent are on Medicaid.

In reality, this argument is self-serving and doesn’t make sense. The more Medicaid patients a hospital sees, the greater its losses will be in the Medicaid program — and the greater its need for supplemental funding. Hospitals that see fewer Medicaid patients can easily offset their losses with the higher reimbursements they receive from commercial insurers.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his leadership team deserve credit for proposing a Medicaid funding plan this session that supports safety net hospitals and their communities. The House budget would maintain the current distribution of supplemental funds and shows more compassion toward the low-income families, sick babies and frail elderly patients treated at safety net hospitals.

Safety net hospitals — which include Florida’s largest public and not-for-profit hospitals — are different. They mostly serve large urban populations, have high Medicaid patient populations and offer many highly specialized yet money-losing services — like pediatric intensive care, burn units, and Level 1 trauma centers — that aren’t available elsewhere in the community. Hospitals like Tampa General often care for sicker patients, providing complex care that is generally not adequately reimbursed by Medicaid.

Tampa General shoulders these costly services while providing outstanding care. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Tampa General as No. 1 in Tampa Bay and No. 2 in the state of Florida, along with six specialties for being among the nation’s best, making us the only hospital in the region to receive such recognition. Our physician specialists are so expert that they’re training the next generation of physician leaders, and patients travel from across Florida — and even the country — to benefit from the innovative treatments available here.

Tampa General Hospital cares for the sickest patients in the Tampa Bay region. Patients from other hospitals in the region are transferred here each day because only Tampa General can treat their trauma injuries, burns, heart failure and other maladies. Tampa General is often, quite literally, their only hope.

We’re fortunate that our community understands that there’s only one Tampa General. They recognize what an asset Tampa General is to the region. Lawmakers need to recognize this as well. We, along with our fellow safety net hospital leaders, are calling on the Florida Senate to put patients before profits.

John Couris is the president and chief executive officer of Tampa General Hospital. John Touchton is the chairman of the board of Tampa General Hospital.

Comments
Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Forceful words are coming from the pope’s pen as well as pulpits around Tampa Bay: The sexual abuse of minors, which proliferated for decades within the Roman Catholic Church, were not merely sins but crimes whose repercussions are still being felt b...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/20/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18