News from Tallahassee for 10/2/14

VA Secretary Visits Florida Facilities posted on 10/1/14

by BOBBIE O'BRIEN | WUSF

The new Secretary of Veteran Affairs is in Florida today to hear from veterans and talk to VA employees about his initiative to restore trust in the VA and eliminate the backlog of claims and long waits for health care.

Robert McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, is spending his first 90 days in office visiting VA facilities nationwide to explain his reform plan dubbed Road to Veterans Day 2014.

He stopped by the Sarasota VA National Cemetery Tuesday. Today, McDonald will meet with employees at the St. Petersburg Regional VA Benefits Office and then tour Tampa's James A. Haley VA Hospital and Polytrauma Center.

McDonald will hold a news conference this afternoon in Tampa before traveling to Orlando where he will tour the VA facilities on Thursday.

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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.

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Health Care Spending Pace May Speed Up posted on 9/4/14

by AP

The nation's respite from troublesome health care inflation is ending, the government said Wednesday in a report that renews a crucial budget challenge for lawmakers, taxpayers, businesses and patients.

Economic recovery, an aging society, and more people insured under the new health care law are driving the long-term trend, according to the report published online by the journal Health Affairs.

Projections by nonpartisan experts with the Health and Human Services department indicate the pace of health care spending will pick up starting this year and beyond. The introduction of expensive new drugs for the liver-wasting disease hepatitis C also contributes to the speed-up in the short run.

The report from the Office of the Actuary projects that spending will grow by an average of 6 percent a year from 2015-2023. That's a notable acceleration after five consecutive years, through 2013, of annual growth below 4 percent.

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Florida HCA hospital charged exorbitant fees for scans, X-rays, lawsuit claims posted on 9/4/14

by Keith Morelli | Tampa Bay Tribune

TAMPA — A pair of unrelated car wrecks in South Florida last year has resulted in what may be a far-reaching lawsuit filed in Tampa. The suit accuses a holding company that owns 80 hospitals across the state, including several in the Tampa area, of grossly overcharging for medical services.

According to the suit, JFK Medical Center and its owner, HCA Holdings, charged exorbitant fees for emergency room radiological services. The overcharges sapped the Personal Injury Protection coverage limits of the patients and left them with thousands of dollars of uncovered bills they had to pay out of their pockets, the suit says.

The four-count, 38-page lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court and seeks class-action certification.

Theodore J. Leopold, a lawyer with the Palm Beach Gardens-based law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll that filed the lawsuit, said HCA hospitals gouged patients with PIP coverage and the insurance companies that offer it.

“We estimate overcharges or up-charges can be from 400 to 700 percent,” he said. “And the patient has no money left over for the rest of their care.”

HCA’s local list of hospitals include Brandon Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital and Town & Country Hospital, St. Petersburg General Hospital and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

The lawsuit does not mention any medical facility except the JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, a few miles south of West Palm Beach. Attorneys filing the action say their clients, two women who were in unrelated traffic accidents in April and May 2013, were victims of “unreasonable, unconscionable and unlawful pricing and billing practices.”

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