Florida counties were right about Medicaid bills

August 7, 2012 

In a grab for cash to plug the state government's shrinking budget, the Florida Legislature this spring withheld $325 million from Florida's 67 county governments. The reason?

The counties allegedly owed the state that amount of money for their share of Medicaid coverage for low-income county residents.

Since the dollar figure was strongly disputed and known to be flawed, withholding money from the counties was a wrong-headed strong-arm ploy.

The Florida Association of Counties rightfully filed a lawsuit in April challenging the move, and Gov. Rick Scott's administration finally is working to whittle down the disputed figure.

As the Associated Press reported last month, the 67 counties' original $316 million bill -- almost $4.4 million from Manatee County -- has been cut by more than half, thanks to efforts by the state Agency for Health Care Administration to ferret out many of the errors in the counties' bills.

Scott had promised that the state would work with county governments to lower the bills, and county association officials credit the agency for making good.

The dispute over how much is really owed stems from a change in the state's electronic billing system that began in 2008 when a new private vendor took over.

The counties contend that the new system contains "rampant errors," largely from mistakes such as billing a county multiple times for the same patient's care, a point that state legislators acknowledge.

Yet that didn't stop them from withholding those disputed millions from the counties.

That may be a convenient way to shrink a massive budget deficit, but it's not good business and it was unfair to county governments with budget problems of their own.

The county association's lawsuit continues in court, and we hope the Legislature's cash grab is overturned. Legislators shouldn't be passing the buck with faulty bills.

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