Proposed Cuts to Florida Medicaid May Impact Hospital Care

Medical Malpractice

Due to constant political pressure, the Florida Legislature is considering proposals for cutting Medicaid benefits to recipients.  Legislators in both the House and the Senate are proposing to save the state’s money by reducing the amounts that hospitals can get paid from Medicaid.  Depending on which cuts are actually made, the difference could mean a savings to the State of $300 million to $800 million next year.

After Medicaid Gets Cut, What Happens?

When government cuts a program such as Medicaid, the people who relied on those benefits still have medical needs and the hospitals have a legal obligation under 42 U.S.C. 1385dd (EMTALA) to provide adequate medical treatment.  EMTALA requires a hospital with an emergency department to screen and provide appropriate treatment to people for emergency medical conditions regardless of the ability to pay.  Therefore for those individuals, a cut to Medicaid results in a direct loss of revenue to the hospital because the hospital is still required to treat the patient.

Who Pays For Hospital Losses?

We all pay for losses incurred by hospitals in two ways.  First, a hospital that cannot make ends meet will eventually close.  If local hospitals, which tend to be smaller in size to begin with, shut down, then you will have to travel farther for care and you will have to go to a larger, busier facility.

Secondly, if the local hospitals are able to keep their doors open, they have no choice but to raise prices for care with the hopes that people with private insurance will pay for it (along with people paying cash for their visits).

Why Is Hospital Funding An Important Political Issue?

Medicaid is a government program that provides medical benefits to low income families and poor individuals.  Over the years, Medicaid has been growing increasingly less popular within conservative political groups and increasingly become a political target for those who think that the government can save some money by cutting benefits.

This is at odds with the aims of the last eight years during the Obama administration where the idea that access to health care was described as a basic or fundamental human right like air and water.  The very reason for this is because the very legitimacy of government is based in meeting the needs of the people (unlike a business, which has a goal of meeting the needs of its shareholders or the “business”).  When money gets tight in business, a business can make cuts to save itself, however, governments cannot do that.

Therein lies the problem on both sides.  One side sees the issue as purely financial while it is life and death to the people who depend on it.  A government that cannot meet the needs of its population, regardless of costs, eventually loses legitimacy with the people.  Likewise, a government that the people neither respect nor believe in is a government that won’t be around very much longer.

Impact On Florida Medical Malpractice Cases

In Florida, there is no difference in the “standard of care” for when a doctor is getting paid versus when a doctor is not getting paid within the hospital setting.  Likewise, despite a cut to a state’s Medicaid budget, the hospitals still have to fully fund payouts for medical malpractice claims.  Hospitals don’t get a break on malpractice just because reimbursements go down or dry up completely.  While some commentators have suggested that caps on medical malpractice claims brought by Medicaid patients or other so-called “tort reform” fixes this issue, however, doing so only disenfranchises the poor and those who have no choice but to rely on government benefits.

Legal precedent in our country has repeatedly suggested that any law that creates a group of “second class citizens” is unconstitutional in violation of the equal protection clauses of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment.  Limiting damages available to someone just because they were a Medicaid recipient (there are no wealthy Medicaid recipients) is fundamentally and unconstitutionally wrong.  Likewise, none of us should want a “second class” health care system to match a second class payment system or a health care system that has no accountability for errors.

If You Have Questions About Your Medical Care, Contact A Lakeland Medical Malpractice Attorney For Help

A Lakeland medical malpractice attorney may be able to answer questions that you may have about whether a hospital or medical provider has an obligation to treat you for your condition as well as whether you are legally responsible to pay the bill for care under the circumstances.  A consultation with a medical malpractice attorney is free.

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