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Scott issues new rules for state’s cancer centers

Gov. Rick Scott, who made millions as a private health executive before turning to politics, is setting up new rules for the state’s cancer centers.

In a recent letter to three of them – all not-for-profit hospitals affiliated with medical schools -- Scott told them what they can and cannot do if they want to keep getting funds from the state.

The three are H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, on the campus of University of South Florida; Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is affiliated with the private University of Miami.

Scott’s letter said they may not franchise their name or brand to private entities, nor receive royalties in exchange for the use of their name or brand. Scott asked the hospitals to disclose to the Department of Health the terms of any affiliation they have with a private organization.

It was not immediately clear how big a blow this will be to the cancer centers, which have gone all-out to seek licensing agreements with biotech and pharmaceutical companies to support their research. Attempts to contact the hospitals on Wednesday and Thursday were unsuccessful.

Scott said the changes are meant to keep the state’s cancer and biomedical research market “robust and competitive.” He said he will develop a comprehensive cancer policy for the state, with a goal of offering cancer treatment centers that rival the nation’s best.

The letter, sent last month, repeated his long-held concern about whether publicly-funded institutions have an edge over those run by private business.

“I believe a fair and balanced playing field for all organizations is essential,” Scott wrote. “Private organizations that are financially supported by the state should not have an unfair advantage over other entities that are not similarly supported.”

He said he will implement a “strategy of accountability and performance measurement” for all entities that receive state support for cancer and biomedical research.

In the current year’s budget, the three facilities received a total of $20 million in special appropriations, with $7.5 million each for Shands and Sylvester and $5 million for Moffitt.

“These conditions are not meant to be punitive or to stifle innovation, but rather to foster a healthy and viable climate for growth and development in the area of biomedical research and cancer treatment in Florida,” Scott wrote.

Moffitt was created by the Legislature in 1981 with the mandate to serve all citizens of Florida. It was championed by then-House Speaker and cancer survivor H. Lee Moffitt. He was responsible for securing a $70-million appropriation from the Legislature to build the facility.

Sylvester opened in 1992 as part of the University of Miami Hospital & Clinics and expanded into Broward and Palm Beach with the opening of Sylvester at Deerfield Beach. Sylvester at Kendall was opened in 2009 in southern Miami-Dade.

The University of Florida opened its Shands Cancer Hospital in November 2009.

This is not the first time the governor has questioned whether public funding of health care benefits some at the cost of others.

Scott last year issued an executive order creating a special commission to review the operations of taxpayer-funded hospital districts. The commission was charged with determining whether it is in the public’s best interest to have government-operated hospitals.

The Florida Legislature this year gave the nod to HB 711, which requires public hospitals to determine how much they are worth, how well they operate and whether they should be sold.

At a meeting of the Memorial Health System in Broward on Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported, the trustees voted unanimously not to sell.

The governor’s staff is meeting with interested parties to come up with a cancer funding policy for the state, said his spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.

“If, when, how an informal or formal workgroup will be established is still to be determined however,” she said in an email.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest. Christine Jordan Sexton can be reached at 850-251-0358 or by e-mail. Questions, comments can go to Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.

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.