Florida is getting a big budget break in the form of $1.5 billion in supplemental healthcare payments from the federal government. And hospitals are breathing a sigh of relief.
Low Income Pool funding supports hospitals and other health providers for the care of uninsured and underinsured patients. Under the Obama Administration the money was phased out after Florida refused to expand Medicaid to more low-income Floridians. The dollars officially ran out last year. But the Senate wrote in $600 million in LIP funding in the hope the federal government would give the money back. The House did not include the funds. Wednesday Governor Rick Scott, state and federal health officials announced Florida would get that, and then some.
“Obviously we think it’s encouraging that the Scott administration and the Trump administration worked very quickly to get to a point where they could offer some certainty to the legislature in terms of the availability of these funds," says the Florida Hospital Association's Bruce Reuben.
Hospitals had been facing big cuts under the Florida Senate and House budget proposals, some $200 million to $600 million in cuts between the House and Senate. Rueben hopes the influx of new federal LIP money will offset those proposals.
“Now the house and senate can make informed decisions about the budget," he says.
Senate President Joe Negron says its too early to determine how the money will be spent, "but its great news, Florida has always been shortchanged on the amount of LIP money we’ve gotten compared to states like Texas, so this is very significant.”
At its peak in 2014, the Low Income Pool was worth more than $2 billion, with money coming from both the state and federal government. This year’s funding is a combination of both as well, with $500 million slated to come local governments, and the rest, from the federal government, amounting to a $1.5 billion LIP pool. Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Justin Senior notes that’s historically what the federal government has given to Florida:
“Traditional LIP has been about a billion dollars, now it’s 1.5 (billion)."
The state and federal government are still ironing out the details for how the LIP money gets spent. Senior suggestions it could be used to help a group of low-income Floridians who make too much money for Medicaid. Right now the state only pays hospital bills in the medically needy program
“You can’t help but think there’s the possibility of expanding more comprehensive coverage to those individuals to allow them to establish a primary care physician and to improve the coordination of their coverage so they aren’t reliant on a crisis setting, a very expensive, back end setting," Senior said before the Senate's Healthcare Appropriations Committee Thursday. "And I think there’s a way to do that for folks below the poverty level in those income and eligibility levels.”
But that is not to be confused with expanding Medicaid, which the state continues to reject. Senior says another area up for negotiation is how the LIP money is distributed to healthcare providers. He floated the idea of creating a tiered priority system for reimbursements based on how much charity care organizations provide. But he adds notes local governments need to be guaranteed a certain amount of money in order for them to continue giving money to the program.