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Hospital lien law approved

Commissioners expect increased oversight of Tampa General's operations in return.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000

TAMPA -- It has taken two years, two federal investigations and looming legislative action, but the Hillsborough County Commission finally passed a lien law Wednesday to help Tampa General Hospital.

The lien law would help TGH collect $3-million a year in unpaid patient bills by allowing the hospital to place a lien on insurance settlements won by patients who do not pay their bills, officials say.

But commissioners made it clear the county ordinance might not stay on the books for long.

Commissioners could undo the lien law if TGH does not agree to a proposal that would give the commission more oversight over the hospital's operations. "I don't consider this a one-day action -- an end-all or be-all," said Commissioner Chris Hart.

The commission wants two members of TGH's private non-profit board to be selected from a pool of county-approved candidates. County commissioners also want regular financial reports from TGH. In return, commissioners say they will keep the lien law on the books and give TGH $3.5-million from an indigent health care reserve fund. The $3.5-million could be matched with federal dollars to bring TGH a total of $7-million.

Wednesday's lien law applies to all hospitals in Hillsborough County that sign a contract with the county.

The Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would force the county to give TGH even more money if it didn't pass a lien law. Language in a bill passed by the Senate and scheduled for a vote today in the House would require the commission to give TGH $6.5-million without a lien ordinance.

If the Legislature takes $6.5-million from the county's reserve fund, the loss will hurt the county's health care plan for the poor. "Soon there will be no health care program," Hart said.

Several lawyers urged commissioners to make changes Wednesday to prevent hospitals from taking patients' entire insurance settlements. But the commission decided against waiting to pass the ordinance. That did not satisfy Commissioner Jim Norman, who voted against the lien law along with Commissioner Jan Platt.

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