Lee Memorial urges legislators to expand Medicaid

The Lee Memorial Health System wants to be clear to the state Legislature about its support for expanding insurance coverage to thousands of uninsured residents in the community.

The public hospital system Thursday sent a letter to the six members of the Lee County delegation that it expects them to proceed with expanding Medicaid, using taxpayer-based federal dollars.

Going one step further, Lee Memorial has added a link to its website so local citizens can send a similar message to lawmakers. That link is http://www.leememorial.org/mainlanding/affordable-care-act.asp.

Richard Akin, chairman of the Lee Memorial board, said Thursday he can’t recall the board ever writing a letter to its local delegation or appealing to the public before with such a strong tone.

The point of the letter is to inform lawmakers they need to act on Medicaid expansion and keep $51 billion in federal dollars slated for Florida to pay for the expansion from going elsewhere, he said.

“Our point is we need to keep the dollars in Florida. We need the money to run our hospitals, we need the money to provide care for the low-income people and it makes good business sense,” Akin said.

Many board members feel hospitals have had to shave budgets so much in recent years because of reimbursement cuts that any more reductions mean hospitals will have to halt some services, Akin said.

“We are down to the bone. There’s not much left to cut,” he said.

Current Medicare regulations will reduce reimbursement to the hospital system by $476 million over 10 years, hospital officials say.

The letter signed by the 10-member Lee Memorial board says to the local delegation that their “hardworking constituents pay federal taxes, and it is only fair that the benefit of those taxes is returned to the community so we can continue to provide for their care.”

Southwest Florida has a 30-percent uninsured rate, and that’s the second highest in the state behind Miami-Dade County. Statewide, there are 4 million uninsured and an expansion of Medicaid, as planned under the Affordable Care Act, would provide coverage for 1 million.

The $51 billion that Florida would receive from the federal government would cover the program expansion entirely for the first three years and then 90 percent of the tab thereafter.

From a business perspective, the Florida Hospital Association came out with a recent analysis that 121,000 jobs would be created in the state by expanding the program. It’s projected that 10,000 of those jobs would be in Southwest Florida.

Officials with the NCH Healthcare System in Collier County could not be reached for comment if they are taking a similar stance with the Collier delegation or letting the FHA handle its lobbying on this issue.

Besides sending a letter to the Lee delegation and adding a link to the Lee Memorial website for the public to send a similar message, Akin had wanted to run the letter as advertisements in local newspapers for greater public awareness. It was mentioned at a board meeting but never voted on.

“I want the public to understand that the legislators have not been supportive of our hospitals and they need to be. They need to pay attention,” Akin said.

“I think the public ought to know we are calling on (them) because your state legislators wouldn’t deal with the issue.”

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