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Rick Scott turns up the heat on Florida Senate and hospitals

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

With just eight days left in the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott has turned up the heat on the Florida Senate.

Scott called Democrat and Republican senators into his office on Wednesday to discuss his legislative priorities, such as tax cuts and increased spending for education. He also advised the senators that he could wield his veto pen on their priority legislation or on funding issues, if and when a budget is passed.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring told Florida Politics he met with Scott for about 10 minutes. Ring said the governor didn’t talk to him about Medicaid expansion or Low Income Pool — the issues that have prevented the two chambers from reaching a compromise on the budget for the upcoming 2015-16 fiscal year.

“It was fine,” Ring said, describing the meeting. “The governor spoke about his frustrations with the process and his priorities. He never said to me, ‘I need you to oppose Medicaid expansion.’ “

Ring said Scott did advise him of his veto authority, something Ring said he is very familiar with. “I’ve been vetoed plenty,” Ring recalled telling the governor. Ring said he’s had legislation or funding vetoed every year since being elected.

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reported that Scott showed state Sen. Nancy Detert a list of hospitals and their operating revenue, operating margins, and total margins to dispel the idea that the facilities would be adversely impacted if Medicaid wasn’t expanded or if a supplemental financing program called Low Income Pool was eliminated.

At a media availability later in the day Scott said he understands that health care is important to Florida families but that the state should understand how Medicaid dollars are being spent.

“We ought to understand how the dollars are spent and we ought to make sure while we are taking Florida taxpayer money that it is spent (in a) way we can help as many people as possible have health care they can afford and they can actually receive and they can feel good about,” Scott said.

The governor issued a press release Tuesday night saying he was considering the creation of a panel to examine the profits of hospitals, insurance companies and healthcare providers that rely on taxpayer dollars.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, meanwhile, issued a release saying that the document shows just one year of information.

“You can’t determine the financial strength of a hospital based on a one-year operating margin. If you look back at the most recent recession, many of the hospitals that were losing money three years ago are now doing better and reinvesting in their communities. Hospitals are going to have cycles and they have to prepare for them,’’ said Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida President Tony Carvalho.

“Even with these margins, most of the Safety Net Alliance hospitals caring for the sickest, most vulnerable citizens would fall into the red if they lost their LIP money. In fact, the expiration of the LIP program would not only strip away the positive margins for the Safety Net Hospitals Alliance members, it would result in an overall operating deficit of $541 million.’’

State Sen. Rene Garcia told Florida Politics that he wasn’t called into Scott’s office. “I kind of wish I did (get called in) but I didn’t,” said Garcia, who supported expanding Medicaid since 2010 when the federal healthcare law was passed and signed into effect.

Garcia said he doesn’t think the move helped sway any senators from supporting the Senate’s proposed Medicaid expansion plan called FHIX or the proposal to keep intact the Low Income Pool.

“I don’t think any senator or House member would be threatened by a veto,” said Garcia. “I really don’t believe that is a viable threat.”

Garcia said that the Scott should be working with the Senate, not against it, to find a solution for the state.

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