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Escambia, Santa Rosa and 45 Other Counties Sue Over Medicaid Law

North Escambia - April 27, 2012

Arguing they are being hit with an “unfunded mandate,” 47 counties — including Escambia and Santa Rosa — filed a lawsuit Thursday that challenges the constitutionality of a new state Medicaid law that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

The local governments, joined by the Florida Association of Counties, indicated they will seek an injunction to try to quickly block parts of the law. The association announced earlier this month that it would file the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court.

 

The case centers on a dispute about whether counties have fully reimbursed the state for certain hospital and nursing-home costs related to residents who are Medicaid beneficiaries. Legislative leaders contend that many counties have not paid the full amounts owed in recent years, but county officials argue the state’s billing system is badly flawed.

 

Under the new law, which Gov. Rick Scott signed March 29, the state could recoup the money by withholding tax dollars that would otherwise go to counties. As of December 31, the uncollected billings totaled as much as $325.5 million.

 

Under the law, Santa Rosa owes an estimated $1.5 million, while Escambia County owes about $6.2 million to the state for disputed Medicaid bills that have been adding up for about a decade.

 

Counties argue the Legislature violated part of the Florida Constitution that is aimed at making it harder for the state to pass along what are known as “unfunded mandates,” which increase costs for local governments. The constitution requires unfunded mandates to be approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate — a threshold that was not met with the new Medicaid law.

 

Though he signed the law, Scott ordered the Agency for Health Care Administration to meet with county officials across the state to try to resolve billing disputes. But a key part of the lawsuit alleges that counties commonly have received incorrect bills for such things as people who live in other areas of Florida or even out of state.

 

“Although counties are willing to pay their fair share for Medicaid services received by their residents, they cannot in good faith make payments for bills that are clearly erroneous and lacking support,” the lawsuit says.

 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include counties from all regions of Florida. Most of the counties that did not join the lawsuit are relatively rural, though they also include Duval, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

 

The News Service Florida contributed to this report.

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