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Doctors to Get 1-Time Fee Cut

Florida’s 61,000 medical doctors will get a 31-percent cut on their license renewal fee under a proposal adopted by the Florida Board of Medicine.

The renewal fee for MDs who have active licenses will be reduced from the usual $360 to $250 during the calendar years 2015-16, under the proposal. MDs have to renew their license every other year.

This one-time fee cut was adopted by the board's finance committee in March and by the fullboard last Friday. It still has to go through the rule-making process, which takes several months. No serious opposition is expected.

What made the fee cut possible is a $9 million fund balance in the MD budget line in the state's Medical Quality Assurance Trust Fund, which is housed at the Department of Health. Each regulated health profession has its own budget line. License fees and fines go into the trust fund to pay the costs of regulation – license application handlers, complaint investigators, prosecutors, etc.

The Board of Medicine’s finance committee has been talking about using the surplus for a fee break for years. Records show DOH officials have opposed it, saying they prefer to see the fund balance build to at least $15 million.

During the recession, between 2008 and 2013, state legislators swept billions of dollars from trust funds throughout state government to plug holes in the state budget, because tax revenue had fallen. Lawmakers said they couldn't cut any more from education or health and social services, and they couldn't raise taxes with the economy so low.

TaxWatch, a non-profit group, issued a report last  month titled "Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds." It says that if the Legislature simply must raid trust funds, lawmakers should do so openly, in a separate bill, rather than hide it in the budget process.

In a letter at the front of the report, CEO and President Dominic Calabro writes, “Trust Funds are designed to provide revenue for specific purposes, and there is usually a connection between the revenue and the spending, such as gas taxes for building roads. Sweeping trust funds breaks that trust and can have real implications, such as reducing job creation and turning fees that are paid for specific services into general taxes.”

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.