1. Florida Politics

Florida hospitals drop challenges to HCA trauma expansion

Published Jul. 25, 2014

The contentious battle over the expansion of trauma care in Florida ended quietly Friday as Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Tampa General and St. Joseph's hospitals dropped their legal challenges against new trauma centers owned by Hospital Corporation of America.

The move ends a fight that began when HCA was allowed to open trauma centers in its hospitals in Manatee and Pasco counties in late 2011. Existing trauma centers said the state had acted illegally. They challenged a new rule devised by the Florida Department of Health to allocate trauma resources, calling it "arbitrary and capricious."

In late June, however, a judge upheld the state's plan, saying it was based on "facts, logic and reason." The deadline for an appeal passed with no action.

There are 27 trauma centers in Florida, including two freestanding children's hospitals. They treat severely injured patients who can generate high payouts from health and auto insurers.

Under the new guidelines, state officials will consider applications for additional trauma centers in five areas, including Hernando County.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation in March showed that HCA's trauma centers charge far more for their services than other trauma centers in the state. Last year's data show that the average total bill for hospitalized HCA trauma patients was $132,307 — $45,000 more than the average at other trauma centers. But HCA's patients were no more severely injured than patients treated elsewhere.

The Times also found that a special "trauma response" fee as high as $34,000 often was billed by HCA. The company later announced it would waive the fee for the uninsured.