A bill that would do away with a cap on how many trauma centers can open in Florida cleared its latest committee Monday.
The bill (HB 1077), sponsored by GOP state Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, was OK’d on a 10-5 party-line vote in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health Care.
He said the motivation for the bill was to end the flow of litigation against the state’s Department of Health, which now is charged with reviewing the need for new centers and approving them.
Almost every time a new application is filed, the department is hit with some kind of litigation, usually from neighboring hospitals that already operate a trauma center.
Records show 31 cases have been filed since 2014, most at the administrative hearing level, and the state has spent over $900,000 on outside attorneys in the last year and a half.
Trumbull instead wants the American College of Surgeons to certify new centers, even though the group is not mentioned by name in the bill, but is mentioned in the staff analysis.
Those in favor of the measure, including hospitals that want to open new centers, say the growing number of Florida’s residents and visitors justifies the need for more centers.
Opponents, generally those already operating trauma centers, said opening more centers would put a strain on the availability of trauma surgeons and would dilute the pool of patients.
Medical specialists have said they need 500-1,000 patients a year per center to remain profitable and maintain expertise.
For instance, the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents facilities that provide care to a high proportion of low-income patients, opposes the measure.
Mark Delegal, its lobbyist, told committee members the “mere adding of trauma centers is not going to enhance access.”
Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican, mentioned that her son soon will become a physician and brought up concerns over patient volume.
“What we’re saying is, allow the free market to (decide how many) centers open across the state,” Trumbull said. “A trauma center will not pop up on every corner and will not dilute the number of patients coming in.”
In 2004, the Legislature divided the state into trauma service areas, currently 19, and the statewide total of trauma centers is now capped at 44. There were 33 centers, including for pediatric care, as of mid-2016. The legislation also does away with the system of trauma service areas and regions.
Trumbull’s bill still has to clear the Health and Human Services Committee before it can be heard on the House floor. A Senate companion (SB 746) carried by Sen. Travis Hutson has yet to be heard.