State to pay legal fees for lawsuit over immigrant ER fees

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The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration dropped its appeal last month in the continuing legal battle over payments to hospitals providing emergency services to undocumented immigrants.

An appeals court on Wednesday ordered AHCA to pay legal fees of an alliance of hospitals fighting the agency over emergency-services issue for more than two years.

Coverage for emergency care of undocumented immigrants is under the state’s Medicaid program, but the recent litigation centered on the extent of services to be covered. Previously, the state deemed emergency service payments as “medically necessary.”

In 2010, AHCA started applying a more-restrictive standard, where payments would be made only to the point patients were “stabilized.”

Hospitals challenged the rule, with an administrative law judge ruled in December 2012 that the AHCA rule was changed without the required process in rulemaking. AHCA brought the case to the First District Court of Appeal, but then last month filed a motion to dismiss the challenge, after oral arguments held in May.

The three-judge appeals court panel on Wednesday approved the dismissal, adding that AHCA “may not avoid its obligation to pay appellees’ (the hospitals’) reasonable appellate attorney’s fees by filing this belated notice of voluntary dismissal.”

The court remanded the case to the administrative law judge, which will determine the fees, if both sides fail to reach an agreement.

Legal wrangling over rules on paying hospitals for the treatment of undocumented immigrants may not be over. This week, hospitals filed a document with the state Division of Administrative Hearings contending the AHCA has not appropriately carried out the 2012 order by an administrative law judge.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.