An appeals court Friday ruled that part of a 2003 state law directing Sarasota County to reimburse private hospitals for indigent care is unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge's finding that the requirement was an unconstitutional "special law" because it would single out private hospitals in Sarasota County for the reimbursements.
"The trial court correctly ruled that the portion of the special law requiring the county to make such reimbursement granted an unconstitutional privilege to private corporations,'' said the 16-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Edward LaRose and joined by judges Chris Altenbernd and Marva Crenshaw. "Indeed, the reimbursement would force local taxpayers to fund the private hospitals' charity care, a benefit not enjoyed by similarly situated private hospitals in Florida."
The private Sarasota Doctors Hospital Inc., Englewood Community Hospital, Inc., and Venice HMA LLC went to court in 2011 after the county refused to reimburse them, according to Friday's ruling.
At the time of a hearing in circuit court, the reimbursement requests totaled about $200 million.
The private hospitals argued, at least in part, that the law was constitutional because the Sarasota Public Hospital District also could claim reimbursements and that the private hospitals perform a "public good" by caring for indigent people. The appeals court rejected both arguments.
"We note that state and federal law compels them to provide some level of emergency care,'' the ruling said. "It seems clear that the private hospitals, at least in part, provide this care to reap the financial benefits of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. The claimed altruism may not be all that it appears to be."