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Escambia County May Join Medicaid Suit Against State

Pensacola News Journal - April 15, 2012

Escambia County commissioners are preparing to join a lawsuit against the state over a controversial Medicaid law that has added more than $6 million to the county's budget deficit this year.


The law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, requires every county in Florida to pay back what the state says are unpaid Medicaid bills that have accrued since 2001. Escambia's share of that amounts to $6.2 million, the largest single expense in the county's $9.5 million budget shortfall this year that has commissioners scrambling to address with cuts, tax increases or both.


Challenging the disputed law — whether it's through a lawsuit or administrative hearings scheduled for the summer — could add more than $400,000 to Escambia's bill if those fights are unsuccessful.


County commissioners are expected to decide Tuesday whether they will join a lawsuit the Florida Association of Counties plans to file against the state over the disputed billing charges. Chairman Wilson Robertson said the motion likely will pass unanimously and that he expects most of Florida's 67 counties to join the suit.


Commissioner Grover Robinson said commissioners felt they had few options.


"It's not what I want to do, but it's our only mechanism," he said. "It's an unfortunate thing."


The state will begin deducting from state revenue-sharing and sales tax revenues the state normally remits to counties in May, County Administrator Randy Oliver said.


Escambia would contribute $3,500 in legal fees if it joins the lawsuit.


It's possible the judge presiding over the case could issue an injunction that automatically stops the state from collecting the Medicaid payments, which would be a temporary reprieve. But Escambia has to begin crafting its budget for next year now and can't count on court action to handle expense, Oliver said.


Amy Lovoy, the county's budget and finance chief, said the county can also choose to dispute individual claims the state has submitted for the county to pay.


She said county officials have noticed billing errors in the list of claims the state submitted, including bills with addresses listed in Escambia, Ala., bills with no listed addresses and several instances when Escambia is being charged multiple times for a single expense.


If the county challenges individual claims and loses at state-run administrative hearings, the state will make the county pay 100 percent of its unpaid bills, Lovoy said. If it doesn't challenge the bills, it will only pay 85 percent of the charges. That means an unsuccessful challenge could result in an additional $400,000 in Medicaid payments next year.


State officials have said they would work with counties to resolve disputed bills.


State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, was the only member of the legislative delegation from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to vote against the bill last month.

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