The Florida Legislature’s health budget chiefs are proposing deep cuts to the state’s largest spending priority: health care, including large decreases to hospital funding.
Jacksonville’s University of Florida Health could be one of the hardest hit because it treats a large number of low-income patients.
But the Senate’s budget leader is confident the cuts will be offset with the renewal of a federal program covering the costs of indigent health care.
Hospitals stand to lose big under both budget proposals, but would be particularly vulnerable to the House’s plan, which cuts their state Medicaid payments by $240 million. That loss would double, too, because the federal government matches those funds.
The Senate’s hospital budget is less severe — around $100 million in cuts, twice that counting the federal match.
But Senate Health Budget Chair Anitere Flores, R-Miami, tried to hedge hospital panic with the possibility of renewing a program discontinued by former President Barack Obama.
“The good news is one of the policy decisions that we are promoting and working with our hospital friends from across the state is working with the federal government on funding for the Low Income Pool,” she said. “The federal government seems to be on a faster track and process to be able to have that funding made available.”
The Low Income Pool was a pot of money both federal and state governments and hospitals contributed to in order to cover the cost of uninsured hospital visits.
Originally, state and local governments put in $1 billion and the feds matched it. But after Florida rejected Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration phased out its portion to $600 million, and then just $300 million until its contribution evaporated this year.
At the time federal officials argued expanding Medicaid would make LIP unnecessary.
The impending loss of that federal cash loomed large last year at a First Coast legislative delegation meeting, where UF Health CEO Russ Armistead warned lawmakers his hospital, which treats a large number of poor and uninsured patients, was in danger of shuttering.
“Those are the funds that we use to provide care and to keep the doors open. If we were — in rough numbers — receiving about $60 million a year from that program and (the next) year I make $10 million, I lose $50 million,” he said. “That would take us into bankruptcy.”
Just a week after the presidential election, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, echoed Armistead’s concerns in an interview with WJCT.
“If you go to (University of Florida) Jacksonville right now, there’s a line in their waiting room of people with nowhere else to go,” he said.
But the former Senate Health Policy Chairman shared Flores’ hopefulness that the state would once again secure the federal funds.
“I am optimistic. It may not be called LIP; it may be called something else,” he said.
The House’s budget doesn’t mention LIP at all, but Flores and other senators say the Trump administration should renew the program within this year’s budget cycle.
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