Tampa Bay hospitals brace for $92 million in cuts

The state budget proposal would cut $18 million from Tampa General Hospital, pictured, and almost $92 million across Tampa Bay.
The state budget proposal would cut $18 million from Tampa General Hospital, pictured, and almost $92 million across Tampa Bay.
Published May 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers have agreed to cut $91.7 million from Tampa Bay area hospitals under a budget the Legislature plans to pass early next week.

Statewide, the proposed hospital cuts total $521 million, all coming from "supplemental" money that state lawmakers put into the Medicaid program two years ago.

Cuts would be deepest at the hospitals that take the largest number of Medicaid patients.

Among the hardest hit: the St. Joseph's hospitals in Hillsborough County.

The five facilities, which are part of the BayCare network, stand to lose almost $20 million.

"Our children's hospital and our women's hospital have very high Medicaid populations," said Keri Eisenbeis, BayCare's director of government relations and community outreach, adding that most of the enrollees in Florida's Medicaid program are kids and pregnant women. "We treat medically complex children."

The plan also would cut $18 million from Tampa General Hospital and $12.1 million from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Lawmakers are banking on the Low Income Pool — a pot of federal money that helps hospitals pay for charity care — to offset the cuts. The federal government recently gave Florida permission to revive the program, but it isn't yet clear how the money will be divided among hospitals.

The overall pool could contain as much as $1.5 billion. In that case, some hospitals could come out ahead, said House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

"Now all of a sudden with LIP coming back into play, the question is, do they still need that much money?" Trujillo said. "If it's what we expect, next year, we could probably cut money and they'll still be held whole."

Still, hospitals warn the cuts could harm patients.

"Adequate funding for Florida's Medicaid program ensures our most vulnerable children, pregnant women, disabled and elderly people have access to critical health care services," said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association. "The Legislature's decision to reduce more than $521 million from this important program will be felt in communities across our state."

The prospect for deeper cuts is on the horizon as well, as the Legislature has teed up an additional $130 million in statewide cuts the following year.

Eisenbeis called the cuts "tough to watch."

"It is very disappointing that the Legislature would reduce its commitment to the Medicaid population and to the providers that take care of these community members," she said.

It was too soon to say what it would mean for St. Joseph's hospitals, she added.

"Our hospitals already treat these patients at a loss, and we will continue to do so," she said. "We've been in the community for a long time. We're financially stable. We will continue to do everything we can to meet the community's needs."

Tampa General and All Children's were hesitant to say much Friday, the day after cuts were agreed to by House and Senate budget writers.

"We need to let this process work through to the end," said Tampa General Hospital spokesman John Dunn.

Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, a group that represents the teaching, public and children's hospitals, said he was most concerned about the uncertainty.

"We won't know the final impact until the terms and conditions on Low Income Pool are adopted," he said. And that could be months away.

Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.