We all know that Gov. Scott’s focus on enterprise and preferential treatment of corporate giants via tax-credit/breaks is the only leg supporting the wobbly stool of policy priorities implemented during his tenure. The Tampa Bay Times’ recent article on the arbitrary, usurious billing policies of the Healthcare Corporation of America’s [HCA] three controversial trauma centers in Florida sharply illuminates how this administration has made it open season for companies looking to exploit the injured many for the profit of a few.
While Scott no longer has direct ties to his former company (you know, the one paid that paid a largest-ever $2 billion+ fine in a fraud settlement), HCA has certainly benefited from the lax regulatory oversight encouraged by his regime. An emblematic example, and the genesis of this current legislative grab bag, sits with the Department of Health allowing the for-profit hospital chain to expand its trauma center service, despite pending litigation aimed at blocking such a move.
Despite an administrative court ruling that DOH erroneously allowed the HCA to continue the expansion of its trauma centers, the healthcare equivalent of predatory loan and check cashing services, the DOH has continued to provide “provisional” status to new centers while their appeal is ongoing in the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Fortunately, we have a pragmatic (and highly suggestible) legislature to settle this entanglement.
Sen. Denise Grimsley is sponsoring the lead piece of trauma legislation this session. SB 1276 would reduce oversight and accountability of the centers to a vague “proof of continuous operation” provision and would allow the re-opening of the contentious Orange Park Medical Trauma Center, while readjusting the state’s trauma districts without DOH oversight.
Following the revelations of HCA’s billing practices, Sen. Grimsley has introduced an amendment that would cap response fees at $15,000 for all Trauma Centers in the state. This rate, however, is still well above the national average response cost and Medicare’s suggested fee of $1,000.
This is the head of steam that continues build in Florida. Maybe it’s cronyism, or perhaps it’s the branches of our government collectively punting on issues of dire concern and tangible impact to its residents. This ever-expanding pool of exploitation and deregulation is fed by the slow drip of a of prevailing mindset in Florida, espoused by a Governor and a Republican legislature, that the privilege of individual well-being comes second to privileges afforded to big business.
Democrats in the both the House and Senate should unequivocally reject these short-sighted and ill-conceived attempts to expand for-profit trauma centers in the state. Unfortunately, confidence in this ever-tenuous caucus is a large ask this spring. A cursory glance at the 2014 contributions made by HCA’s Good Government Group to legislative Democrats, from the leadership down to the freshmen, is enough to leave one guessing as to how they will vote on policy that should be a straightforward issue.
For a caucus whose primary concern in 2013 was affordable and equitable healthcare access, this should be an egregious example of Republicans having their cake and eating too.
Will the HCA’s strategic seeding of contributions to five of the six Democratic members of the House Health and Human Services Committee — expected to hear the companion to Grimsley’s bill next week — make last year’s Medicaid expansion efforts look like a momentary distraction from their efforts to grab cash from any, and all, corporate interests? Has Gov. Scott’s money-first pathology finally corroded the decision making of our Democratic lawmakers?
We hope not.