Hospitals to share $13.2 million, turn down $12 million

Jul 22, 2008

Florida Health News--July 22, 2008

By Christine Jordan Sexton

TALLAHASSEE — Three years after a series of hurricanes slammed into Florida, hospitals across the state are finally getting promised financial help for damages and increased expenses they incurred in the wake of the killer storms.

By the end of September, the state will send out more than $13.2 million, a windfall given the legislature’s recent reduction of Medicaid rates by about 5 ½ percent for inpatients and 7 percent for outpatients. The largest single payout, $3.51 million, will go to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

Remarkably, hospitals turned down half the $25 million available for hurricane relief because of bureaucratic strings attached to its use. Many hospitals balked at a federal rule that imposes a lien on any hospital that accepts money for renovations or repairs; a lien would prevent a hospital from changing ownership or signing leases without government permission.

‘’We were down to the wire fighting” to get the rule dropped, said Rebecca Knapp, assistant deputy secretary for health quality assurance at the state Agency for Health Care Administration. ‘’It was a huge disappointment when it didn’t get resolved.”

See list of hospitals and amounts of hurricane-relief money they’re receiving.
Knapp said that rather than accept a lien for repairs, many hospitals instead sought reimbursement for other expenses such as overtime, generator rental and the expense of treating uninsured patients who flooded into their emergency rooms.

Baptist Health Systems in Pensacola, for example, is getting money to pay for emergency helicopter flights it made to fly in patients injured in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people when it tore into the Gulf Coast in 2005.

“We were running 24 hours back and forth,” said Molly Nobles, a vice president at Baptist. “One helicopter would land, the other one would take off.”

Florida was hit by eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, but it wasn’t until after Katrina that the U.S. Congress approved billions in aid to help out those states devastated by the 2005 storms.

State lawmakers first approved using $25 million in federal aid back in the spring of 2006, and then reapproved the money again in 2007. The Legislative Budget Commission, a panel of state lawmakers that can make mid-year changes to the state spending plan, approved the latest list in June.

To be eligible, a hospital must have incurred damages or expenses related to Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita or Wilma. Also, the hospital must be public or rural or provide care to large numbers of low-income uninsured.

A total of 45 hospitals will share $13.2 million, from $25,000 for Venice Regional Medical Center to $1.78 million for Miami Children’s Hospital.

“I’m thrilled to get it, especially in a year that we had such major hits to our bottom line,’’ said Nobles.

Knapp said Florida will return the remaining $12 million that the hospitals wouldn’t accept because of the lien provision to the federal government by Sept. 30.