Opening of new Medical center puts healthcare cuts, lawsuits in spotlight

Jan 24, 2012

Florida hospitals could see big cuts in what they’re paid for treating Medicaid patients.  A key state house committee moved to include those cuts in the health and human services part of next year’s state budget  Tuesday.  Tom Flanigan reports that took place as a “who’s-who” of Florida health care took part in a ribbon cutting less than two miles from the Capitol.

The event was the official opening of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida’s new “Florida Blue” customer service center.  Pat Garaghty, chair and CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, was one of those cutting the ribbon.

“Well, we serve the whole state of Florida and intend to be all over the state.  So Tallahassee’s a very important marketplace for us and we’re very excited about having this store in place, because it offers a wide range of services to our customers.”

Such services include things like helping members file claims and choose health plans.  The five-thousand square foot facility also promotes membership wellness.  There’s an electronic gizmo in the lobby that calculates your body-mass-index when you stand on it.  Just a few miles away at the State Capitol, lawmakers in the House Health Appropriations Committee found no fat to cut in what is paid to the state’s hospitals for Medicaid patients.  And while Tallahassee Memorial Hospital CEO Mark O’Bryant was praising the customer focus of the new Florida Blue.

“Blue Cross is putting forward a yeoman’s effort to make themselves accessible to the community at large and when we look at healthcare and the personal nature of healthcare, this gives them an entree and gives the community an entree to work with them on how to look and shape healthcare services and healthcare plans in the future.  It’s a new way of looking at how healthcare plans are delivered.”

Bryant and other Florida hospital executives remain worried about how much funding will be delivered for the treatments those hospitals provide to Medicaid patients.  Tuesday’s house committee plan would chop more than two-hundred-ninety million dollars from those payments next year.  This year’s Medicaid cut to hospitals was just over half-a-billion dollars.  Florida nursing homes would also see their Medicaid reimbursements cut under the committee proposal by some seventy-six million dollars.  And this is just in the Florida House.  State senators will also be grappling with Medicaid cuts as part of the task of chopping the budget total by $ 2 billion.  Also in the world of Medicaid, there’s Florida’s ongoing managed care pilot project.  The outcome of that has the potential to involve people like John Hogan.  He’s the executive director of Capital Health Plan, a health maintenance organization based in Tallahassee.

“It’s still early yet in the session and obviously I think that given the economy and the fiscal difficulties that the legislature’s facing, there are plenty of challenges and certainly healthcare is a huge issue as it is every year in terms of finding the dollars to pay for care and I expect it’s going to be front-and-center a major issue for the legislature to deal with and we’re following that very closely.”

And there are other uncertainties facing the state’s health care insurers and providers.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s Garaghty says that includes coming to terms with federal healthcare reform in the event the U-S Supreme Court rejects the multi-state challenge to the law that Florida is leading.

“We’re looking for anything that can help put Florida in a position to be in control of its future.  And by that I mean in the Healthcare Reform Bill you can have an (insurance) exchange in your state.  And so we think that it’s valuable and important that Florida control that.  If an exchange is coming here, it ought to be Florida-based, not federally-based.”

There’s also the unanswered question of what happens if the high court sides with the state challenge and overturns federal healthcare reform.  The crowd of health care experts and advocates seemed to realize not many answers to those questions would be found at Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s ribbon cutting party.  Most hurried back to the Capitol right after the event concluded.