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Children's Hospital Care Facing Devastating Hit Under Senate and House Budget Cut Proposals

 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Florida's children's hospitals are facing tens of millions of dollars in funding cuts under the Senate and House budget proposals that seriously erode their ability to care for the state's sick and injured children, a group of parents, hospital leaders and caregivers warned today.

The state's 14 children's hospitals are disproportionately impacted by the Medicaid cuts being proposed by both the Senate and House, because these hospitals provide 62 percent of the pediatric hospital days in the state. Currently, nearly two out of every three children in Florida are insured under the Medicaid program.

The stark threat to pediatric hospital care was highlighted today in a press conference jointly hosted by the Florida Association of Children's Hospitals, the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, and the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida, which includes more than 60 healthcare, business, consumer and advocacy groups.

"We are deeply concerned that Senate and House leaders may mistakenly believe children's hospital programs are not harmed by proposed Medicaid cuts, when in fact pediatric programs at children's hospitals across the state are facing devastating cuts," said Lindy Kennedy, a Senior Vice President at the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. "These cuts will threaten access to care for Florida's poor and sick children, and further strain children's hospitals whose mission is to serve all of Florida's children."

Noting that Florida's hospitals have already seen Medicaid reimbursements cut by nearly $1 billion over the past seven years, press conference participants called on legislative leaders to prevent any further hospital Medicaid cuts this year—and especially, to protect the pediatric programs that serve one of the state's most vulnerable populations, our children.

The Medicaid cuts currently being considered by both the Senate and House are exacerbated by the fact that Florida's hospitals also were targeted for deep Medicaid cuts in last year's legislative session.

Under the Senate's current budget proposal, the 14 children's hospitals would see funding to their pediatric programs slashed by $94.2 million—that's 64 percent of the total $146 million in cuts the Senate is seeking to make to pediatric programs to all 175 hospitals in the state.

Meanwhile, the House's budget proposal—while still problematic—is less threatening than the Senate's. The House is proposing cuts totaling $48.5 million to the 14 children's hospitals—that's 56 percent of the House's total cuts of $85.9 million to pediatric care programs at the 175 hospitals statewide.

However, the House budget proposal would shield the state's only three separately licensed, free-standing children's hospitals—All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, and Miami Children's Hospital—from any Medicaid reimbursement cuts this session. At these institutions, the percentage of hospitalized children who are insured by Medicaid often exceeds 70 percent. The Senate's budget proposal, on the other hand, would still cut pediatric programs at All Children's and Miami Children's.

If these proposed cuts pass their respective chambers, the Senate will have reduced funding for pediatric programs at the state's 14 children's hospitals by $176.6 million over two years, and the House will have cut funding to these children's hospitals by $130.9 million over the same period.

These cuts could have a variety of harmful impacts, such as forcing children's hospitals to close some high-cost, low-reimbursement programs—such as organ transplant and behavioral health programs. These programs would be difficult to replace. It could also lead to certain procedures being denied or curtailed, and could force hospitals to limit access to services based on the hospital's geographic service area or some other factors.    

Among those urging legislators to protect funding for children's hospitals were Tish West and her daughter Caroline, who received life-saving care at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. Now 14, Caroline was born 5 weeks early and later was diagnosed with an extremely rare neurological disorder. Despite numerous tests and surgeries, she requires daily medical care and weekly therapy sessions to maintain her health.

"Never in my life did I anticipate that my family would need assistance from the Medicaid program, but Caroline's healthcare needs simply overwhelmed us," Tish West said. "Thanks to the help we've received from St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and Medicaid, my daughter is able to receive the care she needs to live today. Legislators must understand that these budget cuts hurt real people and real families. I am urging them to protect our children and our children's hospitals."

Dana Bledsoe, the President of Sacred Heart Children's and Women's Hospital in Pensacola, said legislative leaders should also understand that the proposed cuts will impact pediatric programs in every region of the state. Sacred Heart Children's, which provided 16,483 Medicaid hospital days to children last year, would see its pediatric program funding cut by more than $2 million in the Senate and $1.9 million in the House.

"Children and families in the western Panhandle count on our specialized pediatric programs when a child is seriously sick or injured and needs help," Bledsoe said. "These cuts will hurt our programs and our ability to provide care—and that impact is being felt by all the children's hospitals throughout the state. We understand legislators face very difficult choices in balancing the state budget, but our hospitals have taken their fair share of budget cuts, and we cannot cut further on the backs of Florida's children."

SOURCE Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida

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