Florida lawmakers Wednesday passed a plan to increase scrutiny of the sales or leases of public hospitals, after months of debate stemming from hospital deals that went awry, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
The House and Senate passed a compromise plan (HB 711) that would lead to the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration reviewing potential sales or leases.
Senators earlier proposed giving that role to the state chief financial officer, while the House wanted to allow circuit judges to sign off on hospital deals. Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints the AHCA secretary, objected to those ideas.
The bill also requires public-hospital boards this year to start formal evaluations of the potential benefits of selling or leasing their facilities — though they are not required to pursue sales or leases. Also, it details how money from the sales or leases of public hospitals would be used, with half going to indigent care and the other half going to economic-development projects related to health care.
Sponsors said the bill was needed because of troubled deals in the past to sell or lease public hospitals. Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who described deals as going “amok,” said he hopes the bill will prevent such problems from happening again.
The highest-profile example was the botched merger of the public Bert Fish Medical Center in Volusia County with the non-profit Adventist Health System. That merger was scrapped last year after it was disclosed that the Bert Fish board had met in private to discuss the deal.
“This is an attempt to make sure in the future we have an open and transparent process,” said Senate sponsor Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
The bill goes to Scott, a former hospital executive who last year formed a commission that recommended broader changes in public hospitals. Lawmakers, who also considered bills dealing with sales or leases during the 2011 session, stopped short of carrying out the commission recommendations.
Parts of the hospital industry have watched closely as the Legislature has debated increasing oversight of the deals. Along with public hospitals, others who have lobbied on the issue include for-profit hospital companies Health Management Associates, Tenet Healthcare and HCA.
Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which includes public hospitals, said his group was satisfied with the bill. The Senate unanimously approved the measure, while the House passed it 108-9.
Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat who voted against the bill, questioned whether the decision to give review power to the AHCA secretary could lead to “political games” in hospital deals.
But Hooper said he did not think that would happen. “This is important business when you sell or lease a public asset,” he said.
The bill details a list of factors that the AHCA secretary would consider in deciding whether to approve sales or leases, including whether deals are at fair-market value and whether health services will continue to be provided to indigent and uninsured patients.
Along with detailing how money from hospital deals would be used, the bill also would end hospital-district taxing authority after sales. Taxes could continue to be collected if hospitals are leased.