- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, contending that the state will likely lose federal money it is now receiving to help hospitals, is calling on any hospital that receives taxpayer support to share profits to help each other.

Scott, a former health care executive before he sought public office, sent out a letter on Friday to hospital executives across the state asking them to help draw up the plan.

The move apparently blindsided hospital executives who already are being assailed by Scott and House Republicans in an ongoing health care fight that has delayed approval of a new state budget. Top House Republicans have contended that a push by the Florida Senate to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the budget fight is being driven by hospitals and their lobbyists. Legislators must approve a new budget by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.

In his letter, the Republican governor predicted that Florida will have to prepare a new state budget without federal money that now goes to hospitals to help pay for the poor and uninsured.

Florida has asked for the program to continue, but the state could wind up losing more than $1 billion if the federal government ends it. Scott accuses the federal government of trying to “coerce” the state into offering health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians in exchange for the federal aid. He has sued the government to get the program extended.

Because of the potential loss of federal money, Scott wants hospitals to draw up a plan to use an estimated $3.7 billion in profits collected statewide to help those hospitals that may be on shaky financial ground. He wants the hospitals to present the plan to a new commission that Scott has created to examine hospital finances.

“With the hospital industry’s record-high profits, it does not make sense for the hospital industry to ask state taxpayers to backfill funding the Obama Administration has elected to terminate,” Scott wrote.

Scott compared his suggestion to “how large market baseball teams share revenues with small market baseball teams.”

A spokeswoman for Scott said the profit-sharing plan should be drawn up to include any hospital receiving taxpayer help, regardless of whether it is public, nonprofit or a private, for-profit hospital.

An attempt to require hospitals to share profits could create tensions across the state since some hospitals receive tax dollars paid by local residents, while others do not. Two groups that represent hospitals - the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida - said they were reviewing the letter.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford was stunned that Scott- who got elected with backing from tea party conservatives - made the proposal since he said it had a “socialism type of flair to it.”

“It’s spreading the wealth,” Pafford said. “I don’t know if he tested that with his base, but it’s amusing. It’s actually hard to put into words.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz wasn’t sure a proposal modeled on revenue sharing would work.

“Revenue sharing has created a welfare dynamic where some teams don’t have to appease their fan base because they know a big check is coming because the (New York) Yankees went and signed a big free agent,” said the Fort Walton Beach Republican.

But Senate budget chief Tom Lee said he was willing to remain “open-minded” on any idea to help address the health care stalemate in the Legislature.

“No one has ever mentioned this,” Lee said. “I don’t know if this has ever been done anywhere in America. It’s such a novel concept that it’s really hard to have any intelligent reaction to it.”

___

Associated Press Writer Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.

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