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Blue, Hospitals Seek Legislative Favors

This is the time in a legislative session when health-care interests try to get bills passed or amendments tacked onto must-pass bills so that they will benefit financially.

The Florida Hospital Association and a group that represents "safety-net" hospitals are asking members to lobby lawmakers against an amendment they expect to be filed in committees on Monday or Tuesday. The amendment, which would help the HCA hospital chain, would allow hospitals to build a Level Two trauma center without permission from the Department of Health. (Level Two offers intermediate-level trauma care, with surgeons and other specialists available on short notice; Level One has such specialized care in-house 24-7.)

Ellen Anderson, director of State Advocacy for FHA, sent an e-Blast to hospitals on Friday afternoon saying she expects trauma center deregulation to pop up as an amendment to existing health-care bills either  Monday at 1 p.m. in the Senate Judiciary Committee or Tuesday in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Non-profit and teaching hospitals argue that HCA's desire to build trauma centers in the suburbs hurts  the quality of care at existing trauma centers by pulling away the profitable patients (such as car-accident victims), leaving urban centers with too many uninsured people (such as gunshot victims). HCA argues that it saves lives to bring trauma centers closer to where people live.

HCA had already built trauma centers in Pasco and Manatee counties before an appeals court in November ruled that the state's approval for them violated the law, as the Tampa Bay Timesreported. Since then, HCA has looked for ways to change the law.

Another example of how health companies try to use the Legislature to gain market share is being reported by the Florida Times-Union. It says Florida Blue, one of the biggest donors to state legislative campaigns, is behind an amendment tacked onto insurance-related bills in the House and Senate that would let the state's largest insurer grow still more.

Office of Insurance Regulation spokeswoman Amy Bogner says OIR resolved its questions about the Blue's attempt to reinvent itself as a "mutual insurance holding company," and decided to remain neutral on it. (This sentence was changed from an earlier version.)

In other legislative news:

--A bill to provide more oversight of Assisted-Living Facilities passed the Senate unanimously; the House version has one more committee stop, the Times/Herald Bureau reports.

--The Senate passed a measure that would designate 71 hospitals in the state as being "Quality Cancer Care and Research Centers," making them eligible for a legislative seal of approval and consideration for state research funds, the Tampa Tribunereports.

--A bill to resolve some of the difficulties cancer patients face, such as having insurance coverage only for injections, not pills, passed in the Senate. It is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday in the House Health and Human Services Committee, the Miami Herald reports.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.