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Don't make counties pay bogus bills

Since 2007, Florida's 67 counties have trimmed more than $3 billion from local budgets. Like state government, Florida's local communities have been committed to keeping taxes low and doing more with less.

Unfortunately, HB 5301 — the centerpiece of which is a deeply flawed Medicaid cost shift — was passed by the Legislature and now awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature. There is no better way for the governor to continue his commitment to efficient government than to veto this bad bill.

Without his veto, this legislation may serve as little more than a back-door tax increase on taxpayers — passing the costs of a grossly inefficient billing system onto Floridians in the form of a new unfunded mandate.

It's wrong to make local taxpayers pick up the bill for Tallahassee's accounting errors — but that's what is about to happen.

In 2008, a new electronic billing system was installed at the Agency for Health Care Administration to administer county Medicaid billing. Unfortunately, this system has been flawed from the start. Even the agency that inherited this mess acknowledges the ongoing problems with the 2008 billing system, prior to which counties were paying more than 90 percent of their bills properly. However, after this system was implemented, all 67 counties have dropped their payments significantly due to persistent and demonstrable billing inaccuracies.

For example, an independent analysis from Orange County shows that they have an estimated $3.5 million in redundant billing. In fact, documents show they were billed for one patient 15 times.

Rather than working to fix a system that is now widely known to be flawed, this legislation calls on Florida's 67 counties, and ultimately local taxpayers, to pay for continued inaccuracies. Essentially, it codifies a dysfunctional bureaucratic system into law and asks Floridians to pay for it.

We share the governor's belief in efficient government and believe that, like the state, counties have a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers to ensure that the bills they pay are accurate. Unfortunately, HB 5301 seeks retroactive payment for bills that are disputed, a practice that ensures persistently poor accounting of future taxpayer dollars.

Before paying a credit card bill, it is common sense to review the statement to ensure its accuracy. This legislation, however, insists on the opposite approach: mandating that local taxpayers pick up the bill before having an opportunity to review the statement.

This accounting sleight-of-hand would rob Peter to pay Paul — slapping a bandage rather than a solution over state budget holes by burdening local budgets with demonstrably inaccurate bills. It's exactly the type of bureaucratic gimmick that causes voters to resent government, and it leaves taxpayers stuck with bad bills.

The cost of these inaccuracies is significant. The legislation would hand local taxpayers a bill for more than $77 million above the estimated Medicaid billing for 2012-13 and more than $155 million more than what AHCA collected in 2010-11.

Over the long term, this legislation has no winners, only losers — namely Florida's taxpayers. As governor, Rick Scott has set the standard for efficient government. Counties share his commitment to that standard and, for that reason, regard HB 5301 as the worst example of government playing fast and loose with its budget and its bills.

It is in the spirit of a common commitment to efficient government that Florida's counties urge the governor to veto HB 5301.

Christopher L. Holley is the executive director of the Florida Association of Counties.

Don't make counties pay bogus bills 03/18/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 18, 2012 4:30am]
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