Good thing the Florida Legislature shut down early and failed to conclude business three days early — including the constitutionally required state balanced budget.
They will get another opportunity, June 1-20, when they return for a very expensive taxpayer-paid summer vacation in hot, hot, hot Tallahassee. You can bet they will get done quickly; not only is it steaming hot in Tallahassee during the summer, but they can’t raise money for their re-election campaigns for that entire period that the legislature is session.
The reason it is a good thing — they failed to pass reforms to the substance abuse and mental health laws of Florida, legislation so badly needed. Some elements would have made involuntary commitment easier, and that’s why it’s a good thing, with some of the ideas coming out of Tallahassee — particularly those coming from the governor’s office — someone might have gotten some ideas about Baker Acting some elected officials.
So, with Republicans and the Tea Party supporting him, Gov. Rick Scott is proposing that hospital systems that have shown a profit would be asked to share those profits with the less fortunate, and perhaps not as well run hospitals. It is socialism and communism at its best, but certainly not Reagan Republicanism. If forced to give away profits, where exactly is the benefit to having a profit? It takes away the incentive to all hospitals to run an efficient healthcare system.
The money would be used to cover the loss in excess of $2 billion, called the Low Income Pool (LIP). That expires this year. These dollars helped cover the cost of treating the uninsured. The Obama administration has warned for more than a year that the dollars will stop at the end of June, and the federal government’s contribution to it will disappear. It’s no secret, and yet the governor suggests the need is based on the administration cutting off these needed funds. Let’s set aside for purposes of this discussion that there would be no issue if Florida would accept $50 billion in Medicaid expansion money over the next 10 years to buy private coverage for 800,000 uninsured Floridians; it doesn’t go away, but the powers that be argue it is a separate issue, so let’s humor them and set this irresponsibility aside to talk about the LIP controversy. We now face a June 1 special session to attempt to pass a state budget and resolve the stalemate between the House and the Senate, the Senate having put forth a bipartisan plan to accept the Medicaid expansion money and phase out the LIP.
Instead of acting like a statesman and negotiating with legislators (although he did call several senators to his office and threatened to veto their legislation if they didn’t withdraw their support for expanded coverage), the governor has flip-flopped and dropped his support for Medicaid expansion, sued the Obama Administration over LIP and now is calling for hospitals to share their profits.
Wow! Good thing those new Baker Act tools are not available to us! To create cover for his plan, he has created (by order of His Majesty King Rick Scott) a kangaroo healthcare commission to basically come back to him after studying the issue and suggest that hospitals share their profits. Exactly what he said! To do this, he stacked the commission with his own campaign supporters and only one healthcare person.
King Scott named Carlos Beruff of Parrish as chair, a homebuilder who contributed $121,000 to Scott and the Republican Party of Florida. On the same day he ordered the commission created, HCA gave $l00,000 to the governor’s committee, a slush fund, given that he can’t run for re-election. That would be the same HCA where Rick Scott made hundreds of millions of dollars personally.
So, let’s recap where we are right now in this mess, the Health Care Impasse.
What’s happening? Gov. Scott has appointed a new commission on healthcare and hospital funding to investigate the finances of Florida hospitals and insurance companies that receive taxpayer funding. Latest development — Gov. Scott has asked the hospitals to provide eight years of detailed financial and operating data to the commission and it will be reviewed by the commission in its first meeting in Tallahassee. Basically, he gave the hospitals three days, including a weekend, to respond and produce eight years of data from 2006 to 2013, including profits, executive compensation, the total money hospitals are spending on fees for lobbyists, and the average daily cost of caring for patients.
Why hospital funding? It is a critical element in the current budget crisis. The federal government could reduce or eliminate a $2.2 billion funding program that Florida hospitals now use. Lawmakers have been at odds over finding a way to help the hospitals, one that doesn’t include an expansion of Medicaid, which Scott and the house strongly oppose.
Gov. Scott’s interest — Scott is a former healthcare executive who made a fortune by creating the Columbia/HCA conglomerate, which he left in 1997 and the company later had to a pay a record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Scott believes healthcare costs are too high, citing what he calls $3.7 billion in recent hospital profits. He has suggested the hospitals come up with a “profit sharing” plan to mitigate the potential loss of all — or some of — the $2.2 billion federal hospital funding.
A similar request is being made of insurance companies and HMO’s that also receive taxpayer funding for healthcare services. This is the second hospital commission the governor has created since he bought the governor’s office with $73 million in personal funds in 2011. The first commission was aimed at “taxpayer supported hospitals” and met 14 times, and released a report at the end of his first year in office. Nothing resulted from this initial waste of time and money.
This is nothing but a sideshow to the key issues still facing the Legislature — the fate of LIP and expansion of Medicaid. To put fear into any possible pushback or negative viewpoints on the parts of hospitals, we began a phase of punishment. The governor went after UF Health Jacksonville specifically; but, of course, it had nothing to do with their executive testifying before the senate in April telling the senate that without the $95 million they receive from LIP the hospital would cease to exist.
The Gubernator fired off more than a dozen questions including how much the facility would save if it didn’t have to pay a penalty for having the worst 2014 rating for hospital acquired infections and injuries in the state under a federal incentive program.
Ironically, and just to underscore what a ruse this is, most of the information requested (like 90 percent of the financial data) is already available — not only to the governor and the commission, but to anyone from the public who wants it — on Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) websites. He is making them supply data that is already public record on his own agencies’ websites. So two choices here — total incompetence or it’s simply a ruse. Yep, we’ll go with the ruse; it’s kinder.
And while he is keeping the hospitals busy, no doubt his staff is already busy writing the report. Oh. that’s right, they have to wait for the commission to report to them. We have no doubt that report is being written as you read this and at this writing the commission won’t have their first meeting until next week. The way the executive order is written he is basically saying: “Here is what I want you to tell me when you finish looking at these issues.”
Recently, one of the most conservative members of the senate, former senate president Don Gaetz (R-Pensacola) went public with statements on the radio calling out Rick “Karl Marx” Scott for trying to introduce “socialist healthcare systems by forcibly extracting profits from one business and giving it to another.” Senator Gaetz said the governor was bringing the Soviet Union to Florida.
Former Republican Senator Paula Dockery, in her League of Women Voters column, recently said, “Scott’s problem really isn’t that the 840,000 don’t have insurance, it’s that he wants to keep it that way, even though the money is available to insure them. Yikes, he can’t really admit that, can he?”
Yes, Senator, the times they are a changin’. Scott is a master of turning a political problem into a personal opportunity. The strategy is to shift the blame, vilify the feds and appeal to the political base. His official line is you can’t trust the federal government, the feds walked away and now they’re coercing us.
And just like the discipline utilized with his zombie-like repetition of jobs, jobs, jobs, Scott will repeat the official line until enough people believe it. He has the money, the resources and the bully pulpit. What he is sorely lacking is the trust of the voters.
If you research socialism, you’ll find it has it’s roots at it’s earliest stages defined as “utopian socialism.” Florida has been called Utopia by those who come here seeking the Fountain of Youth and opportunity. More than 800,000 uninsured Floridians are having their very lives put at risk due to a lack of coverage. Unable to pay for visits to primary care doctors, they let health problems worsen until they end up in the most expensive form of care — in an emergency room — with far more serious illnesses.
Extended coverage, whether by Medicaid or any private insurance plan hybrid, as the Florida Senate has proposed, benefits their health as well as that of everyone else. Status quo only causes everyone’s health and insurance costs to go up.
Gov. Rick “Lenin” Scott has called the federal government “mobsters,” comparing them to the Sopranos for trying to coerce the state into Medicaid expansion by dangling the LIP dollars before them. Seems to us Gov. Scott is the one who is acting like Vito Corleone and offering the Godfather’s famous “deal they can’t refuse.”
They have no choice, the governor has shown he’ll do and say anything to get his way on this issue. He even is willing to sound like a communist/socialist. He even admitted he backed Medicaid expansion in 2013 only to get a waiver from the administration, at the time claiming he had a change of heart due to his mother’s death. Perhaps this Mario Puzo quote from the Godfather is more appropriate when one thinks about our Governor: “I don’t trust society to protect us; I have no intention of placing my fate in the hands of men whose only qualification is that they managed to con a block of people to vote for them.”