Fliers step up attack on council
By Christine Jordan Sexton
2/19/2009 © Florida Health News
TALLAHASSEE – The battle to abolish an obscure Medicaid spending panel has taken on the trappings of a full-fledged political campaign.
The group that wants state lawmakers to kill the Low Income Pool council has started showing a television ad in the crucial South Florida market and sent 25,000 colorful fliers out through the mail, said Vivian Myrtetus, a spokesperson for Floridians for Government Accountability. Myrtetus said the mailers had been dropped across the state and not in any particular market.
“Special interests spend $1.2 billion of our tax money on themselves,” the color mailer reads. “Stop the lobbyists. Stop the special interests. Abolish the LIP Council.”
State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, said one of his Pinellas County constituents who received the mailer called in confusion because he “had no idea in the world” what the LIP Council was. The anti-council campaign is "a total waste of money," Jones told Florida Health News.
But Myrtetus said about 100 response cards have been sent in since the mailing went out a week ago, which is “pretty good.”
So far the aggressive campaign to end the LIP council has not yielded any concrete results. The bill to abolish it stalled Wednesday in its first stop at a Senate committee.
The council, which recommends how the state should spend $1 billion in the Medicaid program, is a 17-member panel made up of hospital representatives and others. But that’s not how it’s portrayed in the mailers.
Floridians for Government Accountability already has paid for a television advertisement, airing a 30-second commercial spot depicting two shadowy lobbyists shaking hands. The commercial also has been posted to youtube.com.
But who’s backing the group isn’t clear. Established just two months ago, the group focuses on tax and spending issues and, according to its website, will “organize volunteer policy committees, perform issue surveys and will host forums to discuss issues that are important to Florida’s future.”
Myrtetus said the association isn’t required to disclose its members or what it’s spending money on because it’s advocating for an issue and not for an item or candidate on the ballot. She works for Core Message, a Tallahassee-based public relations firm started by a top aide to former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The arcane LIP Council has operated in near obscurity for years. But when the Senate Health Regulation Committee debated a bill (SB 556) to eliminate it, Tallahassee’s elite lobbyists filled the room.
After two hours of heated testimony, Sen. Don Gaetz, committee chair and bill sponsor, agreed to defer action until the committee’s next meeting. Gaetz said after the meeting that he had the votes to pass the bill out of his committee but he delayed action at the request of Senate Minority leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee.
SB 556 is supported by HCA Healthcare Corporation, business giant Associated Industries of Florida, and federally qualified health centers. It is opposed by the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.
Like any Medicaid program, LIP requires the state to provide matching dollars. Ten counties in Florida provide 94 percent of the state’s required matching dollars, according to the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.
Pinellas County puts in about $24 million and hospitals there get back about $65 million. Without LIP funding, Sen. Jones said, All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg "wouldn't be able to keep their doors open."
The LIP Council recommends that most of the federal dollars go back to facilities in counties that contribute to the program. But not all; Mark Delegal, lobbyist for Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, noted that hospitals in 37 counties have received LIP money.
Delegal presents the flip side of the argument that those receiving most of the money shouldn’t sit on the council that allocates it: “If they’re putting up the (match) money, shouldn’t they have a seat at the table?”
The panel’s spending recommendations have come under a magnifying glass because of cuts in Medicaid over the last two years.
Eliminating the LIP Council is a “critical” concern for Florida’s businesses. said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of Associated Industries. While HCA is not a member of the Florida Hospital Association or the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida it is a member of AIF.
Bishop said it would be more appropriate for the legislature or the Agency for Health Care Administration to make the decisions. “It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.