Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced his nine appointments to a commission tasked with examining hospital finances, naming only one health care professional to the commission and a chair that has been a frequent donor to the governor and other Republican causes.
The governor has gone on the attack against hospitals over a fight to expand Medicaid and extend federal funds that help hospitals who care for Medicaid and uninsured patients. The issue is creating a potential $1 billion hole in the state budget.
Hospitals want the governor to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 Floridians, which would give them more paying customers. President Barack Obama's administration also wants Florida to expand Medicaid. The administration says it's more efficient to use the federal hospital funds, known as the low-income pool, to give people insurance instead of paying hospitals for caring for the uninsured retroactively.
Top House Republicans have contended that a push by the Florida Senate to expand the state's Medicaid program as part of the budget fight is being driven by hospitals and their lobbyists. Legislators must approve a new budget by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.
Scott and House Republicans are opposed and don't want to accept any money tied to Obama's health law — including Medicaid expansion funds.
Scott is even suing the Obama administration, alleging it is coercing him to expand Medicaid by withholding hospital funds. The federal government remains adamant it will not give Florida any hospital funds for people who could gain insurance through Medicaid expansion.
Several hospitals across the state have said they would be forced to cut services or shut down without the hospital funds.
But Scott has been working to show that Florida hospitals are not in as bad financial shape as they maintain and wants his health care commission to look at hospital finances, including CEO's salaries and bonuses, and lobbying expenditures. The group will have its first meeting on May 20 in Tallahassee.
Only one health care professional was appointed to Scott's commission — Dr. Jason Rosenburg, a reconstructive microsurgeon and a former chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine.
The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida submitted the names of five hospital executives they hoped Scott would appoint to the commission but were rejected.
"We are disappointed that hospital executives knowledgeable in complex healthcare financing matters were not named to the commission but remain committed to working closely with Governor Scott and AHCA on important budget issues," the group's president, Tony Carvalho, said in a statement.
Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Parrish and a member of the South Florida Water Management District, will serve as commission chairman.
Beruff has been a frequent donor to Scott and fellow Republicans, giving more than $100,000 since 2008, according to the state campaign finance database. He's given $75,000 to Scott's political committee Let's Get to Work, and shelled out another $15,000 to the Republican Party of Florida last year.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek and state Surgeon General John Armstrong will serve as co-executive directors, which are not voting positions.
The governor has also asked hospitals to help draw up profit sharing plans to use an estimated $3.7 billion in profits collected statewide to help those hospitals that may be on shaky financial ground. He wants the hospitals to present the plan to his new health care commission.
"With the hospital industry's record-high profits, it does not make sense for the hospital industry to ask state taxpayers to backfill funding the Obama Administration has elected to terminate," Scott said previously.
The profit sharing idea could pit hospitals against each other, since some hospitals receive tax dollars paid by local residents, while others do not.
The Florida Hospital Association said Monday they will be issuing a response to the governor this week.
Scott is the former head of a private hospital chain that was snagged in a massive Medicare fraud scandal, although he was never charged. He entered politics running ads against the Affordable Care Act.