News from Tallahassee for 9/23/14

Damages Reduced in Kickbacks Case posted on 9/19/14

by Carol Gentry | Health News Florida

A federal judge has reduced the punitive damages that a Tampa jury imposed in June on national drug-testing firm Millennium Laboratories after finding that it engaged in unfair competition by breaking anti-kickback laws in Florida and two other states.

But Millennium Labs, based in San Diego, still owes more than $11 million to its rival Ameritox Ltd. after the reduction. In Friday's 29-page order, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew called Millennium's conduct "fairly reprehensible."

She denied Millenium's request for a new trial or a set-aside of damages. She did, however, reduce punitive damages by $3.5 million to $8.5 million -- which are in addition to actual damages of $2.7 million.

As Health News Florida reported in June, the jury decided that Millennium Labs gave doctors an illegal inducement -- a kickback -- when it offered them plastic urine-specimen cups with test strips built into them, at no charge. As Millennium had hoped, many of the doctors who had been using Ameritox Ltd. for the lucrative confirmatory follow-up tests switched to Millennium. The cups cost Millennium just $5 apiece.

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The Secret Prices Of Health Care: How What You Don’t Know Can Cost You posted on 9/17/14

by sammy mack | Health News Florida

When Uwe Reinhardt tries to explains the Gordian Knot of hospital pricing to his health care economics students at Princeton University, he has a go-to metaphor:

“It's almost like blindfolding people, shoving them into Macy's and saying, ‘buy — efficiently — for a shirt.’ Well you come out with a pair of shorts,” says Reinhardt.

As WLRN and the Miami Herald have been documenting all this week, the tangle of employers, insurance companies and providers makes shopping for health care and health insurance difficult enough — but underneath that web is a layer of secrecy that prevents consumers from seeing what actually gets paid for care.

And according to Reinhardt and others, what you don’t know can cost you.

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35K in FL Risk Losing Health Law Tax Credits posted on 9/17/14

by AP

Thousands of consumers risk losing financial aid for health care premiums under President Barack Obama's law unless they clear up lingering questions about their incomes, administration officials said Monday.

The Health and Human Services Department said some people who got coverage have reported incomes that don't square with what the government has on record. At least 279,000 households with income discrepancies face a Sept. 30 deadline to submit documentation. If not, their premiums will be adjusted up or down in November.

Florida and Texas top the list of citizenship- and immigration-related cancellations, with 35,100 and 19,600, respectively. But the administration did not report any information for immigration mega-states like California and New York, which are running their own insurance marketplaces. That omission means total cancellations could be significantly higher.

Those consumers would still have a policy, but many risk seeing their financial subsidies slashed. Some may no longer be eligible for any help with their premiums. It's also conceivable that some could actually be entitled to a bigger tax credit that would lower what they pay. Andy Slavitt, a senior official overseeing the HealthCare.gov website, said the government has no way of knowing at this point.

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Taking children to the wrong trauma center can be a deadly mistake posted on 9/12/14

by Kris Hundley and Alexandra Zayas | Tampa Bay Times

One April evening two years ago, 9-year-old Justin Davis dashed into a busy Jacksonville street, headed to a convenience store for snacks.

When paramedics arrived minutes later, they found the boy lying on the road, unconscious. The impact of a car had fractured his skull and his brain was swelling and bleeding.

Paramedics knew they had to act fast.

Instead of taking Justin to the pediatric trauma center 13 miles away — the only place in Jacksonville equipped to handle his injuries — they drove him in the opposite direction, to a new adult trauma center a few miles closer.

If they thought they were saving time, they were wrong.

Doctors there couldn't treat Justin's brain injuries. They called for a helicopter to take the boy back across town to the pediatric trauma center.

It wound up taking more than 80 minutes to get the boy to specialists who had been less than 20 minutes from the scene of his accident.

Justin never woke up.

Under Florida guidelines, children who suffer traumatic injuries are supposed to go straight to a trauma center that specializes in pediatric care. Studies show that gives them the best chance of survival.

But dozens of children each year aren't getting that chance, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found. Instead, paramedics are taking them to adult trauma centers that may be closer but aren't equipped to help them.

This is an unintended consequence of the recent expansion of Florida's trauma system.

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Sarasota Memorial Hospital considers offering trauma care posted on 9/11/14

by BARBARA PETERS SMITH | Herald-Tribune

During four years of a costly statewide legal conflict among hospitals over the right to treat trauma patients, Sarasota Memorial Hospital's leaders quietly watched from the sidelines.

Now that the dust has settled, they are considering a leap into this competitive — and crowded — arena.

Sarasota Memorial's board has been discussing the idea of applying to become a state-approved Level II trauma center. If it opts to move forward, the public hospital will directly compete with Bradenton's Blake Medical Center when it comes to treating the region's most critical and life-threatening injuries — mostly from traffic accidents, gun violence or head wounds.

Pivotal to Sarasota Memorial's decision is a recent rule change by the state agency that approves new trauma centers, which allocates two possible sites for the region that includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

Blake — owned by the for-profit HCA health care chain — has occupied one of those spots since November 2011. The other is apparently up for grabs.

Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder said Tuesday that he is consulting with the hospital's medical staff before proceeding. The possibility of trauma center status is something the hospital has regularly reviewed, he added.

» Read more

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