Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget includes $2.1 billion cut in Medicaid

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12 December 2011
Jobs, as well as dollars, will be lost, hospital lobbying group says.

TALLAHASSEE - When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his proposed $66.4 billion budget last week, many people in the capital and around the state cast it as schools versus hospitals.

Scott's spending plan injected public education with a roughly $1 billion increase but cut $2.1 billion in reimbursements for Medicaid. The cut prompted a fast pushback from the Safety Net Alliance of Florida, a lobbying group that represents 15 of the state's biggest hospitals.

It estimates the cuts would cost its members $1.4 billion.

"That kind of cut is going to cost jobs in the community," said Tony Carvalho, the group's president. The budget reduction, he said, would among other services hurt trauma centers and graduate medical education.

Medicaid is a federal-state hybrid program that provides health care to low-income people and families.

The group estimated that Shands Jacksonville would face a $13.6 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements under Scott's proposed budget. Shands Gainesville would face a $63.5 million reduction. The biggest overall cut: $152.7 million at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

In a statement, Shands said it is still "working to understand the full impact of the budget proposal."

Scott, during his budget presentation, said the impact on the state was clear: Medicaid costs were out of control and not cutting them would put Florida in danger.

"No program has grown as fast and as much as Medicaid, and we must find ways to control the cost," he said. "If we do nothing, this program will bankrupt our state."

Total Medicaid expenditures in Florida were $21.5 billion last year. Scott's proposed budget has those expenditures at $19.4 million. Those savings will come from lowering the rate that hospitals are reimbursed for Medicaid services.

Of the cuts, $385 million is money from Florida taxpayers. The rest is from federal money the administration will give up in order to save the state dollars. The loss in matching funds, Carvalho said, further supports his argument.

"We are putting Florida's communities at risk by giving up the federal share of the money," he said. "This is not like deciding to build a road or bridge. These people are going to get sick anyway."

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, whose district includes Shands Jacksonville, says he would rather see a more "balanced" approach.

"Times are tough, but I think we need to make more incremental cuts across the board," he said. "These cuts are going to cripple hospitals."

He said the cuts are particularly tough because Shands Jacksonville serves low-income areas.

"It's really going to have an impact on my constituents," Fullwood said.

Scott said Florida is not unique and that needed Medicaid cuts extend beyond state boundaries and political parties.

"I was at the Republican Governors Association meeting last week, and every state is dealing with the same issue," he said. "It's not partisan. Republicans and Democrats are dealing with this issue."

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