Study: Florida would save money by boosting primary care

Mar 18, 2009

Florida could save $700 million a year by providing more basic screenings and preventive care, researchers say.

Miami Herald–March 14, 2009

Legislators are expected to receive next week a research paper that concludes the state could save $700 million a year in healthcare costs by making sure Floridians had a place to go for primary care.

More basic screenings and preventive care would keep many people out of expensive trips to the emergency room, wrote four researchers from The George Washington University. At present, 3.8 million Floridians don’t have insurance, the study reports, and eight million “lack access to a regular source of primary healthcare.”

The report comes at a time when the Obama administration is pouring $10 million into Florida’s community health centers as part of the stimulus package, and more money may be on the way.

The Florida Association of Community Health Centers plans to use the George Washington University study to make a case that the Legislature should double funding for public clinics next year — from $15.3 million to $31 million. The group also favors a $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes.

”We’re not asking for a lot,” said Andrew Behrman, president of the association. “And it could do a lot to help Florida.”

Both Democratic and Republican policymakers say more emphasis on primary care is the best way to reduce overall healthcare costs, but finding the dollars to finance it has been a challenge.

Behrman’s group advocates getting the $31 million from the billion-dollar Lower Income Pool, made up of federal and local tax dollars intended for institutions that do the most for the poor and uninsured, such as the large public hospitals.

Anthony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which includes the Broward and Miami-Dade public hospitals, said, ”We think primary care initiatives are good,” but he wasn’t certain whether LIP is the best way to fund.

At present an LIP council, led by large public hospitals, recommends to the Legislature how the pool money should be spent. The Safety Net group, whose members form the bulk of the council, favors its retention. The Health Centers group supports a bill to abolish the council.

Meanwhile, money is rolling in from Washington. The Broward Community and Family Health Centers in Hollywood is getting $1.3 million in stimulus money to expand operations.

Community Health of South Florida (was just informed by a federal agency that it could receive $995,000 to help its seven clinics assist the poor and uninsured.

CHI Chief Executive Brodes Hartley said the group’s clinics treated 58,000 patients in 2007, 65,000 in 2008 and are expecting increased growth this year. Hartley said he hopes to use the new funds to hire another obstetrician-gynecologist to deliver babies in South Dade and for other matters.