Thursday, April 28, 2011

Florida Medicaid Busters Assert GOP Health Care Priorities: Cronies First, Patients Last

While an alarmed citizenry stormed GOP town hall meetings to vent their anger over Republican plans to dismantle Medicare, hand its money to insurers, and pawn off future seniors with coupons that won't cover a third of their health care costs, Florida moved ahead with a Medicaid plot that underscored the Republicans' health care priorities: industry cronies first, patients last.

In fact, Florida's new Republican Governor Rick Scott isn't just a health industry crony, he's the multi-millionaire former head of a hospital chain that had to pay $1.7 billion-with-a-"B" in criminal and civil fines for defrauding Medicare. Scott stepped down as head of Columbia/HCA in 1997 while the FBI was crawling all over the company's books.

Now Scott and Florida's GOP-led legislature are poised to dismantle the state's Medicaid system. Just as Republicans on Capitol Hill aim to hand Medicare's money to insurers, Republicans in Florida aim to hand the state's Medicaid money directly to HMOs. Just as Republicans on Capitol Hill scheme to change Medicare from a system that pays doctors for services to a system that pads insurance company profits, Republicans in Florida scheme to change Medicaid from a system that pays doctors for services to a system that fattens HMOs.

And, just as Beltway Republicans covet tossing future seniors into the retail market to buy whatever insurance they can afford with the pittance of "premium assistance" they'll get, Florida Republicans covet tossing their poor, elderly and disabled into accepting whatever the HMOs offer for the Medicaid subsidy the state hands over.

Over the last decade, Florida's Medicaid bill has ballooned from $9 billion to $21 billion. State Senator Joe Negron, author of one of the GOP bills trundling through the legislature, whined that "the Medicaid system is irretrievably broken." The state Senate was set to vote on his bill Friday, and the state House had already passed its version earlier. "We were not going to kick the can down the road another year," Negron crowed.

Horror stories about the state's new-style Medicaid's pilot program told of poor and disabled patients deprived of doctors and care as their new HMO scuttled needed services to make their state subsidies pay. Instead of paying doctors for services to patients, the Florida scheme forces patients into authorized for-profit HMOs that'll get state money directly and decide how much of it will be spent on patient care and how much of it will be spent on private jets, private yachts, and very private dancers.

Did I mention that Rick Scott made millions heading a company the FBI nailed for defrauding Medicare?

Victims of Florida's Medicaid pilot program who had been receiving care for chronic illnesses found themselves shunted off to HMOs that didn't offer the services they needed. They found that the new HMOs offered few services and specialists, and that their doctors were dropping out of the program because of red tape and low pay.

Republicans justified all this cruelty by screaming about costs.

In fact, Americans pay more than twice as much per person for health care than any other industrialized nation, but suffers among the lowest life expectancies and most miserable infant mortality rates. America's health care system is broken not because Medicare and Medicaid are too expensive, but because the health care system is cobbled together from so many profit centers geared to rake in as much cash as possible for greedy scammers.

Did I mention Rick Scott made millions heading a company the FBI nailed for defrauding Medicare?

In America, administrative costs eat up a huge chunk of health care spending. 5%-10% of what big companies pay to insure their employees goes toward administrative costs. 25%-27% of what small companies fork out goes toward administrative costs, and a whopping 40% of individual insurance plans goes toward administrative costs. No wonder Republicans want future seniors in the individual insurance market.

Medicare, on the other hand, only uses 3% of the money it gets for administrative costs. Rick Scott would have been hard pressed to become a millionaire working for Medicare.

America also spends about $30 billion a year to correct mistakes. And, that doesn't even count the $1.7 billion Columbia/HCA coughed up in fines and penalties.

When Republicans scream about reining in skyrocketing health care costs, they always focus on slashing services rather than tossing out the administrative leeches sucking all the money out of the system. It's the old, tried and true Republican dodge: when your rich cronies create a problem, kick and scream that the only solution is to hand even more money and even more power to the very cronies that created the problem in the first place.

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