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Sunday, Oct 26, 2014
Editorials

Lawmakers should derail Medicaid scheme

Published:

Local lawmakers need to derail a legislative scheme to swipe money that should fund medical care for the area’s poor.

The plan represents an outrageous abuse of the counties that have been proactive in addressing the poor’s health-care needs. It would reward communities that have neglected their fiscal responsibilities.

Under current law a local government can send local tax dollars used for health care to the state government in order to increase Florida’s Medicaid match.

In the past, state officials have sent the additional federal funds made possible by the local contribution — along with the local tax dollars — back to the donor county.

But last session the state Senate sought to divert all the extra federal dollars made possible by the local taxes to a statewide pool.

Fortunately, the Florida House was able to reduce the amount diverted to 10 percent.

But the Legislature plans to move forward next year with a full diversion, which would cut funding for Hillsborough and other counties that help pay for the poor’s medical treatment.

The state will divert those additional federal dollars to other communities, some of which don’t spend local taxes on their residents’ health-care needs.

Some background: Because of Hillsborough’s half-cent indigent health-care tax, it was able to send $54 million to the state for the federal Medicaid match last year. This earned an additional $77 million in federal aid. Both the $54 million and $77 million came back to Hillsborough. Because Medicaid reimburses far less than the cost of treatment, the additional funding reduces the local shortfall, which is critically important to hospitals and health-care providers.

Under the Legislature’s 10 percent diversion this year, Hillsborough will lose about $2.2 million in health-care funds. A full diversion would have cost the county about $15 million.

Pinellas and Polk counties also will be hurt by this money grab.

Baycare, which operates 11 hospitals in the Tampa Bay area, estimates Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties now send $66.8 million in local taxes to Tallahassee for the federal match, which brings back another $95.4 million in federal funds to the three counties.

Under the Legislature’s plan, the state would return only the $66.8 million plus interest. The bulk of the $95.4 million would go to a state pool to be distributed around the state. Some of this, of course, would go to the donor counties.

But state functionaries would decide where the funds would go. The communities that made the additional dollars possible would have no say.

This irresponsible policy undermines local control and fiscal accountability.

Our local delegation should resolve to block this money grab.

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