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Florida hospitals call exemptions a big mistake

They say doctor-owned facilities would open, siphoning profits.

By Kris Hundley, Times Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2008


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Florida's hospitals are gearing up to fight efforts to make it easier for new hospitals to open in the state.

The industry's first target is a bill that would pave the way for a hospital on the campus of the University of South Florida's medical school.

Ralph Glatfelter, senior vice president of the Florida Hospital Association, lambasted legislation drafted by state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, exempting medical schools like USF from the state's certificate of need, or CON, process, now required for all new hospitals.

"We totally oppose exemptions," Glatfelter said Thursday. "Why would Florida invest in a hospital when they can't take care of what they've got and the private hospital sector is willing to do the same thing? It doesn't make a lot of sense to us."

Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of USF's medical school, said he was disappointed in the hospital trade group's reaction and denied the exemption was an attack on CON.

"We're only trying to make the medical schools in Florida as good as they can be," he said. "Obviously, the FHA will only say what's in their best interest."

As special-interest groups prepare for the upcoming legislative session, regulating new hospital approvals will be a hot-button issue. Since 1973, the CON process has controlled the construction of hospitals by forcing them to show market demand before they are approved. The FHA says that new full-service hospitals cost about $2-million per bed.

Opponents to CON say the lengthy process adds time and expense to hospital construction and restricts competition.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who wants to eliminate CON for hospitals, said, "One of the things I'd like to do is relax that process so that we get more health care providers to more Floridians in a more timely fashion."

The state's 289 full-service hospitals worry that if CON were removed, small, doctor-owned facilities focused on high-margin procedures for insured patients would open. These patients are needed at existing hospitals, Glatfelter said, to offset the 65 to 75 percent of patients who are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid, which reimburses at less than cost.

Siding with the hospital trade association is the influential business group Associated Industries of Florida. The group said studies by three auto manufacturers have shown that the cost for health care is significantly higher in states without CON. A hospital building boom would also exacerbate the shortage of doctors and nurses in Florida, it said.

Klasko insisted that a hospital on his campus would address this shortage by allowing more medical residents to train in Tampa.

But even Klasko acknowledged that the push for a new hospital at USF has little to do with patient demand.

"There is no health care crisis in this community," he said. "But if Tampa wants to have an academic medical center that rivals some of the best in the nation, it needs a different model."

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996.

[Last modified February 15, 2008, 11:12:43]


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