Hospital panel set for year-end report

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Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida reports: Facing objections from public hospitals, a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Scott could call next week for revamping local hospital-taxing districts — including turning them into “indigent health care districts.”

The Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospital Districts discussed a draft report Tuesday that also could lead to local votes on district taxing powers and call for more oversight of the sales or leases of public hospitals.

Commissioners, who have been studying hospital districts since May, likely will finalize the recommendations Dec. 29, as they meet a New Year’s deadline for sending the report to Scott and lawmakers.

“The real work is going to happen on the 29th,” said Chairman Dominic Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch. “I think we’re going to bang it out on the 29th.”

A key part of the draft would re-label districts as “indigent health care districts” and try to prevent tax dollars from getting funneled to only certain publicly funded hospitals. The basic concept is that money should be able to flow to wherever indigent patients get care, whether that is public hospitals, private hospitals or other types of providers.

“I think we’re looking at moving more towards a focus on providing indigent health care,” Calabro said.

But commission member R. Paul Duncan, a health-policy expert at the University of Florida, said he is concerned that such a change could lead to creation of a “kind of charity hospital system” that only would serve low-income and uninsured people.

Duncan said public hospitals would not have as much money to buy equipment and modernize facilities to compete with private hospitals. As a result, he said insured patients might drift to the better-equipped private hospitals, leaving behind low-income and uninsured patients — and, ultimately, affecting the quality of care at public hospitals.

Hospital-industry officials have closely watched the commission’s deliberations, though it remains unclear whether lawmakers will act on the recommendations during the 2012 legislative session. Scott recently said such action might wait until 2013, as redistricting will dominate much of the upcoming session.

Nevertheless, Scott, who made a fortune as chief executive of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, has made clear he would like to see changes in public hospitals. In a March executive order creating the commission, Scott said in part that the panel should determine whether it is “appropriate to convert government-operated hospitals to different governance models (and) what the process should be for such conversion.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.