Op-Ed

Florida Senate should protect JMH by putting patients before profits

Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network, has a $1.9 billion spending plan for 2018 that depends on growth in patients and services.
Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network, has a $1.9 billion spending plan for 2018 that depends on growth in patients and services. el nuevo herald

Public service seems to be a quaint old-fashioned notion in Tallahassee these days as for-profit hospitals jostle for a sliver of indigent care Medicaid funding that is a mere percentage point in their annual operating Florida revenue.

It is unconscionable that the for-profit hospitals, owned by huge out-of-state corporations, are pushing to have the Florida Senate take $318 million away from hospitals that serve large percentages of Medicaid patients. This reimbursement enhancement has for almost three-decades been dedicated to hospitals caring for high numbers of low-come pregnant women, sick babies, children and frail elderly.

Needy Floridians depend on our safety net hospitals. While $318 million would be almost inconsequential in for-profit shareholder dividend reports, it could mean the difference between life and death to the most vulnerable in South Florida.

For Jackson Health System, it would mean cuts of $59.6 million, the most of any hospital statewide. When others cannot take care of a problem, Jackson can. Jackson receives transfers from other hospitals every day for high-risk obstetrics, heart failure, and trauma, among others. Without Jackson, those patients will have met the end of their road in the community hospital.

Understand this: Hospitals lose money on every Medicaid patient they treat. Medicaid only reimburses hospitals about 60 cents for every $1 of hospital care. The $318 million that the for-profits are after is today shared among 28 hospitals where at least one of every four patients are on Medicaid — at Jackson, 40 percent of our patients are eligible for Medicaid. For-profit hospitals see a larger share of commercially insured patients, meaning they have greater ability to offset the losses incurred from caring for Medicaid patients.

Core to the for-profit hospitals strategy of taking from the poor and giving to the rich, is fabricating stories that public safety net hospitals sit on mounds of local health care taxes.

They do not.

In fact, public safety net hospitals send hundreds of millions of dollars of their local health care funds to Tallahassee every year to help pay for the state’s share of the Medicaid and charity care programs. Without this support, Florida’s Medicaid and charity care programs would literally collapse.

Year after year, out-of-state for-profit corporations try to tear down our community’s public hospitals.

They have even tried to persuade the state’s hospital regulatory agency to discredit the value and accountability of public hospitals. Twice in recent years, two different state-appointed commissions examined public hospitals and concluded they operate with fiscal responsibility and in the sunshine, while providing the most highly advanced tertiary care and comprehensive primary care outreach.

Remember, Jackson Health System reinvests earnings back into the needs of our community. For-profit hospitals bank earnings as profits in order to pay dividends to investors. If a hospital system decides to go the for-profit route, why should taxpayer money support their investors? Free markets mean just that – free to win, and free to lose. The taxpayers should not cover the losses of for profit businesses. Taxpayer money should support the public good, without a for profit motive.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the House have passed a budget that shows compassion for our low-income neighbors. It puts patients before profits. For the sake of Florida’s sick and most vulnerable residents who rely on our safety net hospitals, let us all hope the Senate takes a long look in the mirror and is reminded of the common public service mission that lawmakers and safety net hospitals share.

Our community supports Jackson — our lawmakers should too. I am calling on the Florida Senate to put “patients before profits.”

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