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Palm Beach County stays out of lawsuit over Medicaid billing

by John Kennedy | April 26th, 2012

Palm Beach County — for now — is staying out of a lawsuit filed Thursday by 47 Florida counties over the Legislature’s attempt to recover unpaid and disputed Medicaid bills.

Florida’s 67 counties expect to lose $70.5 million in health care dollars this year. Palm Beach County, alone, could lose almost $8 million. While County Commissioners earlier this month approved resolution supporting the lawsuit, they’re not part of the case filed in Leon County Circuit Court.

“We have a unique situation in Palm Beach with our health care taxing district,” said Todd Bonlarron, the county’s lobbyist. ”The county effectively says ‘you’re responsible…for health care. Our board supports the lawsuit. And they might take another look at it, but not now.”

The Florida Association of Counties also is involved in the challenge, which casts the Legislature’s action as an “unfunded mandate.”  The constitution doesn’t prohibit the state from increasing costs for local governments. But to do so, measures must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, which the Medicaid bill (HB 5301) didn’t get. 

  Lawmakers said local governments owe the state $325 million, and the legislation reduces local revenue sharing for several years.

But the amount of debt is disputed, with counties accusing the state of double-billing or demanding payments from them for treating Medicaid patients who turn out not to be county residents.

“This bill represents the worst kind of body blow to taxpayers,” said Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith, president of the Florida Association of Counties, when Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill last month.  ”Rather than correcting Tallahassee’s error-ridden Medicaid billing system, HB 5301 codifies it and leaves local taxpayers with the bill.”

State lawmakers concede billings are frequently inaccurate, especially since Florida changed its system in 2008. In signing the measure, Scott added a letter in which he said the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration will work with counties on specific billing problems.

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