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Lawmakers' attitude upbeat on TGH effort

By SHELBY OPPEL and DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- After an update from former Gov. Bob Martinez on the ailing financial health of Tampa General Hospital, state lawmakers from Tampa Bay on Tuesday repeated their willingness to help.

But they can't do it alone.

"We've got to go first. We're the first banker in the deal," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

But "we've got a (Hillsborough) County Commission and a federal government that we've got to bring to the table or we can't solve the problem."

Martinez, chairman-elect of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, arrived at the Capitol on Tuesday seeking help for the hospital's financial woes.

A health care consultant paid by the chamber found that by the end of February, the hospital had lost $10.7-million this year. By the end of the fiscal year in October, the tab is expected to rise to $21-million, according to a report by Tribrook Healthcare Consultants.

In a meeting with legislators from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Mike Carroll of Tribrook said TGH needs $20-million to $25-million in government funds this year to ensure future solvency without cutting medical services.

The House and Senate have included money to help TGH in budget proposals, but for now, the House's plans go further, said state Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa.

The House plan would send about $22-million to TGH. The Senate plan has about $14-million in it, Murman said.

Gov. Jeb Bush has recommended sending $8-million to TGH, but he remains open to doing more, said his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Hirst,

Lawmakers expressed interest in Carroll's finding that about half of TGH patients don't come from Hillsborough County. Carroll also told them the hospital will need more than one year of financial help to survive.

Locally, the County Commission could do two things to help the hospital's finances:

It could let TGH put liens on insurance settlements won by patients who haven't paid their bills. Hospital executives say this could bring in about $4-million a year.

It also could increase how much it pays TGH for treating patients covered by the county's health care plan. The commission cut the payments in 1998, saying it would not pay TGH higher rates since it was no longer a public hospital.

Now, commissioners say they can't increase what they pay TGH under the plan without unfairly giving TGH an edge over other private hospitals. And commissioners say they won't pass a lien ordinance until the Legislature changes the law to make sure patients get to keep more money from insurance settlements.

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