Safety net hospitals in Florida could see their state Medicaid payments decrease by $170 million under a proposal in the budget the state Senate is poised to approve Thursday. The proposal, which would target about $318 million in payments that currently go to 28 hospitals with a higher percentage of Medicaid patients, would funnel those funds into the base rates paid to all hospitals instead.

The reshuffling in the Senate budget would largely affect safety net hospitals, which include public and teaching hospitals, while for-profit hospitals could gain more than $63 million, according to the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital would lose $59 million, Broward Health would lose about $17 million and Tampa General would lose $14 million, according to Safety Net’s analysis. Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami and Johns Hopkins All Children’s, which each see about 70 percent of patients covered by Medicaid, would lose $10.5 million and $5 million respectively. In contrast, for-profit chain HCA could see its reimbursements rise more than $40 million.

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the new system would more fairly distribute funds to all hospitals, which she said also provide charity care like the 28 hospitals that currently meet the 25 percent threshold of Medicaid patients to receive automatic rate enhancements.

“We’re making sure that the dollars actually follow the patient that is being served,” she said.

Flores contended that the new proposal corrects an “arbitrary” formula that set the higher payment rates in past years, and that the hospitals that had been reimbursed at a higher rate would be able to recoup their losses through federal Low Income Pool funding, which reimburses hospitals for charity care serving the uninsured.

But Lindy Kennedy, vice president of the Safety Net Alliance, told the Senate Democratic Caucus that the policy is needed because Medicaid rates do not cover the cost of care. Those 28 hospitals, which largely comprise public or not-for-profit private institutions in the state, lose proportionately more money because a larger slice of their patients are covered by Medicaid, she said.

“If Medicaid would pay these costs and if didn’t go into the red for every Medicaid patient we had, we wouldn’t need this policy,” she said. “This puts us back to status quo.”

“These hospitals cannot afford this type of cut,” she added.

Lidia Amoretti, a spokeswoman for Jackson Health System, called the Senate’s plan “alarming,” though she added “it is still early in the process.”

“We trust that the Miami-Dade delegation will fight fiercely – as it always does – to protect the people who rely upon Jackson for world-class care,” she said in a statement. 

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, proposed an amendment that would revert the Senate proposal to match the House’s version this year, though it was rejected on the floor.

Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance, said that the Senate plan would also cut $94 million from three of the four largest teaching hospitals — UF’s Shands in Gainesville, Jackson Memorial and Tampa General.

“All hospitals lose money, and I appreciate that, but the average annual margin for the three largest teaching hospitals is $57 million over the last five years…for the operation of in-patient out-patient services in hospitals,” he said. “The Senate bill would cut them $95 million — that’s $30 million more than their operating margin in the last five years.”

By contrast, he said, HCA makes an operating margin, on average over the last five years, of $868 million per year.

Carvalho said one of the biggest cuts to hospitals are employees and this would be “damaging some of your premier medical institutions.”

“Their slogan is the money follows the patient,” he said. “That would be pertinent if all hospitals were paid their cost of care or all hospitals did the same percentage of Medicaid. That’s not the case. If you are going to pay hospitals way below the cost of care, our position is — and it has been the legislative position for years — is that you make a special adjustment when one of four of their patients are in the Medicaid pool.”

The Senate is expected to pass its budget tomorrow, setting up a clash with the House, whose version of the budget preserves the higher reimbursement system. The Senate’s plan also includes $130 million in nursing home funding, which differs from the House plan.

Miami Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed reporting.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

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Senate poised to approve budget redistributing state Medicaid funding