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Bill restores some rights for hospital

A last-minute compromise ended the impasse between state Sen. John Grant and Tampa General Hospital over a bill that could allow the newly privatized hospital to once again be first in line to collect insurance settlement money from accident victims.

The bill still falls significantly short of the lien rights Tampa General enjoyed last year as a public hospital, and it still must be signed into law by Gov. Lawton Chiles and enacted by the County Commission. It would extend lien authority to all Hillsborough County hospitals.

"It basically says the settlement can't all go to the hospital," said Tampa General president Bruce Siegel, who flew to Tallahassee this week with board chairman H.L. Culbreath and hired two high-powered lobbyists to salvage a bill that appeared doomed.

Siegel said the lien authority is worth up to $18-million to the financially strapped hospital, which late last year blamed losses of almost $7-million on the inability to collect money from accident victims. Public hospital board members were warned last year by county attorney Emmy Acton that going private would end that right.

Grant said Siegel told him this week that failure to pass the bill would determine whether the hospital could survive.

Grant supported lien legislation, but called for amendments to make the collection process more equitable for accident victims and their lawyers.

"Tampa General's track record on handling liens has been very anti-consumer," he said.

The final bill prevents hospitals from collecting fees based on the higher charges for services to a patient, and instead would require hospitals to bill at the lower rates normally negotiated by managed care providers. It also calls for an equitable distribution of collected funds to the accident victim, the lawyers who collect settlements and the hospital.

Siegel said late Friday it was too soon to determine the impact the amended bill will have on Tampa General.