Nursing homes, physicians and hospitals will have, for one year only, protections from COVID-19-related lawsuits under a bill that the Florida House passed Friday and is sure to be signed by the Governor in the very near future.
The Senate already signed off on the measure.
The question is, will the one-year reprieve — included in the bill at the insistence of the Florida House — be enough or will the powerful lobbyists who represent the health care and business industries come back and ask for more?
And if they do, will the Capitol still be on lockdown and largely unavailable for the public to access?
National Federation of Independent Business Florida President Bill Herrle said the one-year life span should be enough to get the job done.
“Barring another pandemic,” Herrle said, his association wouldn’t be asking for the lawsuit protections to be extended.
“I think everyone is eager to get COVID in the rearview mirror,” Herrle said after the House passed the bill on Friday.
Onto some budget news …
The House and Senate released early iterations of health care spending plans this week and the outlook wasn’t pretty for Florida hospitals.
The Senate proposed about $328 million in reductions to hospitals and the House proposed $514 million, including the near elimination of what is known as the “critical care fund.” The fund is used to provide enhanced Medicaid payments for health care providers that treat the largest numbers of Medicaid patients.
The House’s spending plan hit some facilities particularly hard, according to Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior. Seventy percent of the reductions proposed by the House this week affect the state’s 12 regional perinatal intensive care centers, which care for some of the sickest children in Florida.
Additionally, the so-called “Pfizer 5” were hit with $180 million in reductions under the House’s plan. The Pfizer 5 were the hospitals that were the first in the state to receive COVID-19 vaccines: Tampa General, UF Health Jacksonville, Memorial Healthcare in Broward County Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and AdventHealth in Orlando.
“The more you see the most complex, difficult, neonatal intensive care cases and the more you were involved in the vaccine distribution, the more likely you were to get cut (in the House budget),” Senior said.
Senior remains hopeful, though, that the budget picture will improve, for a number of reasons.
Lawmakers relied on older budget forecasts when assembling their budgets. But the new forecasts have improved, which should reduce the need for reductions.
Additionally, about $10 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money will soon be headed Florida’s way, a portion of which could be used to reduce the cuts. Also, the Joe Biden administration has said that it will continue the additional 6.2% hike in the amount of money the federal government contributes to the Medicaid program. That would increase by $130 million per month the amount of federal money coming to the state to support Medicaid. The budgets released this week don’t include the additional 6.2% in federal money.
Jointly funded by the state and federal governments, Medicaid is a safety net program that provides health coverage to poor, elderly and disabled residents. Enrollment in Florida’s Medicaid program stands at more than 4.5 million people, an increase of more than 730,000 people in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.
In other budget news, neither the House nor the Senate included any additional funding for the state’s Canadian drug importation efforts in the health care spending proposals that were released this week. DeSantis asked for $15 million in additional funding for the program in his proposed budget for next fiscal year.
The DeSantis administration in November submitted to the federal government its plan to establish a drug-importation program. But the plan was immediately challenged by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Partnership for Safe Medicines and the Council for Affordable Health Coverage. In a lawsuit, the groups argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that drug importation programs are safe or will produce significant cost savings for consumers. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration already has $10 million in recurring money in its budget to pay a vendor, LifeScience Logistics, to help with the drug-importation implementation.
Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.