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Playing the role of taxpayer watchdog is a proven recipe that aspiring political candidates can use to elevate their profiles and build support. Consider Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Over the course of his speakership, Corcoran has exposed the million dollar promotional contract between publicly-funded Visit Florida and Miami rapper Pitbull, fought against taxpayer funding of the quasi-public Enterprise Florida, and most recently, waged a public feud with chef Emeril Lagasse and his producer over the millions of taxpayer dollars spent to produce a show promoting Florida food tourism.

But one industry sector that consumes the lion’s share of tax dollars – public hospitals – has gotten a free pass from political figures like Corcoran in recent years despite the fact that just a small handful these not-for-profit health care companies have posted billions of dollars in profits.

There are just 25 so-called “safety-net hospitals” in Florida, and all of them registered as not-for-profit corporations. Despite that misleading tag, some experts estimate that in 2016 alone, these 25 hospitals posted revenue in excess of expenses (i.e. “profit”) of over one billion dollars, according to data obtained by The Capitolist from the Florida Hospital Uniform Reporting System, data from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), and from audited financial statements from the hospitals themselves.

None of these hospitals pays a dime in taxes to either the state or the federal government. Instead, they collect hundreds of millions of dollars from Medicaid and state rate enhancements, often without any direct connection to how many Medicaid patients they serve.

In fiscal year 2016-2017, through a combination of dollars from the federal low-income pool (LIP) and other state funds, these 25 Florida safety net hospitals collected over $400 million, and through state-funded rate enhancements, stand to collect another $293 million this year. Those public funds are awarded according to a formula that reimburses so-called safety net hospitals at a higher rate than other hospitals, some of which end up losing money when providing services to Medicaid patients.

Right now, the Florida House of Representatives has recommended a state budget that continues to award hundreds of millions of dollars to safety net hospitals without any knowledge of where all that “surplus revenue” – estimated at $1.4 billion this year alone – is actually going.

With the likes of Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis already in the governor’s race, and Corcoran perhaps only weeks away from jumping in himself, such a massive pool of public cash, and the complete lack of accountability and oversight, could become a lucrative target for a candidate looking for headlines that would play well in a Republican primary.

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