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Rick Scott defends his call for Florida hospitals to share the wealth

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Rick Scott‘s call for Florida hospitals to share their profits if the federal government refuses to authorize $2.2 billion in healthcare spending has been greeted as a form of socialism by critics, including some from his own party.

“That’s government price controls,” Niceville-based GOP state Sen. Don Gaetz said in a recent radio interview. “That really brought the Soviet Union into a ‘Going Out of Business’ sale.”

Earlier this month, Scott proposed to the Florida Hospital Association that if the U.S. Health and Human Services Department rejects the state’s application to extend the Low Income Pool, or LIP, program, that some of the state’s larger hospitals should share their proceeds with other, less profitable healthcare facilities.  He said he wanted the hospitals to submit three models by May 22, so that his Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding could consider them on May 26.

Appearing in Tampa on Monday afternoon, Scott was asked by this reporter about Gaetz’s comments.

“I put together a commission to make sure the right thing happens in health care. What do we all want in health care? We want to be able to afford it, we want people to get great care, and treated with respect, and we’re spending your dollars, so I want to make sure that your dollars are spent well. Our hospitals had record profits, so it’s one of the many things that are going to be looked up by this commission. I think they have their first meeting on Wednesday of this week.”

Earlier today the Florida Hospital Association responded to the governor by saying that  hospitals don’t believe a way to plug the loss of the federal Low Income Pool program is through a tax on their revenues.

“You have suggested that a new tax on hospital operation surpluses might be a way to sustain the existing LIP program,” the draft FHA letter to the governor reads in a story reported by Florida Politics Christine Jordan Sexton. “Such an arrangement is not a solution to the challenge we face. It is clear the the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will not sustain the LIP program under current terms and conditions.”

The governor spoke to reporters after conducting a press conference at Inspirata, a cancer diagnostics company that intends to establish its global headquarters in Tampa, adding 70 new jobs to the area.

When asked about the upcoming budget showdown in the session, Scott repeatedly said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the House and Senate will come together to pass a budget when they meet in two weeks for a special session. If they don’t come up with a solution by June 30, the state government would shut down.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we don’t have a state that shuts down our state government,” he said, adding that he’s asked all state agencies to review their staffing levels in terms of who is most essential as a way to prepare for a potential shutdown.

The governor remained eternally sunny when discussing the budget situation, emphasizing as per usual the issue of jobs are being created in Florida, in this case stating that over 841,000 of them have been added since he was elected in 2010.  “I’m hopeful that this session will be successful so that we can focus on how we can get more jobs,” he said more than once, adding that he will continue to search to find a way to cut taxes, fund education, and fund cancer research (since that was the subject of the hour).

Scott’s behavior as the budget crisis has evolved in recent weeks has raised hackles not only with Democrats, but editorial writers across the state. He’s been taken to task for calling for something called a “continuation budget,” something that is used in Louisiana, where several key staff members like Melissa Sellers used to work as aides to Gov. Bobby Jindal. When asked about using that phrase, he simply replied, “”I think it’s important to get the full budget passed.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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