With the Legislature set to meet in less than two weeks to begin hammering out a final agreement on health-care disputes that have caused a budget stalemate, a new hospital commission created by Gov. Rick Scott held its first meeting Wednesday. But the head of the panel said he wasn't sure the commission's work would be done in time for the special session that starts June 1.
Carlos Beruff, president of Medallion homes and chairman of the commission, indicated he thought it would be difficult for the group to gather all of the information it needs to help the state navigate through the health-care funding issues it faces.
"I don't think you'll have all the data by the end of the special session --- no, I don't," Beruff said. "But there'll be more data."
Beruff would not answer directly how long he thought the panel might work. But asked specifically if it would wrap up by the end of the special session, he merely answered: "It'd be interesting to try."
Scott has portrayed the nine-member Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding as part of his response to the threat of losing a $2.2 billion federal program known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The program, which sends money to hospitals and other medical providers that care for large numbers of low-income patients, is set to expire June 30 unless state and federal officials reach an agreement.
Along with a dispute between the House and Senate over whether to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to help lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance, the LIP issue caused a budget impasse that sparked the need for the special session.
Lawmakers last week also threw a new and potentially more-explosive issue into the mix: the possibility of repealing the state's certificate-of-need program, which limits when and where certain health-care facilities can be built. At least some commissioners seemed skeptical Wednesday of whether the program was really helping contain the costs of health care.
"We understand that creation of a hospital is very capital-intensive," said Jason Rosenburg, a physician who is the only member of the panel with professional medical experience. "And if you have no CON --- one of the arguments against not having CON, as I understand it, is that everyone would start building hospitals. But I don't know that everyone would, so I'd like to see what happened to Texas when they got rid of their CON."
Referring to a map that showed states without certificate-of-need programs in yellow, former SunTrust Bank executive Tom Kuntz said he would like to know more about their reasoning.
"I'd really be interested in the consensus view of the yellow states as to why they don't have the program," said Kuntz, who also serves on the state university system's Board of Governors.
But one of the few speakers from the public at the meeting had a simpler solution.
"Take the Medicaid expansion," said Tom Brooks, who drove to the meeting from DeLand. "It not only takes care of your problem with the LIP, you're empowering the patient. Oh, my God, isn't that terrible? You're giving poor people health care. Oh, that's awful."
The commission has largely received a cold shoulder from many of the state's hospitals, especially when it came to Scott's request that the hospitals fill out surveys for the commission to consider. Many of the dozens of surveys returned by hospitals have five or fewer of the roughly 100 lines filled out with new information.
Hospital officials frequently referred Scott back to information filed with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees much of the state's spending on health care
"As a taxpayer, if they receive tax dollars, they should be responsible for giving us the information that would help us make sure that the tax dollars are being spent wisely," said commission member Sam Seevers, a former Destin mayor.
AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek, who serves as co-executive director of the commission, told reporters she was also disappointed with the results of the survey request.
"These are typically collegial folks that we deal with on a regular basis," Dudek said.
The commission has also come under fire for lacking health-care executives. But in remarks early in the meeting, state Surgeon General John Armstrong painted the experiences of the group that includes businessmen, a retired general and others as a positive.
"Collectively, they have been responsible for negotiating benefits packages for themselves and for thousands of employees in our state. ... Collectively, they bring expertise in budgets, revenue management and finance, and I believe that our state will be well-served by the insights that they bring and that they share during the course of deliberations of this commission," Armstrong said.
The commission's next meeting will be Tuesday in Orlando.