If you thought taxpayer fees would go up because of
Obamacare, what happens when a suit against the system creates more drain on
the taxpayer? In recent legal invoices submitted by multiple state agencies,
they show that Florida's Medicaid health agencies have accrued up $7.8 million
in legal costs since 2006 during a drawn-out lawsuit over the program.
The Florida Department of Health, Florida Agency for Health
Care Administration, Florida Department of Children and Families and Florida
Office of the Attorney General showed that almost half of the charges came from
private law firms, while the remaining charges came from the Florida Office of
the Attorney General for access to their staff attorneys.
“As both sides of a decade-long lawsuit over Florida’s
Medicaid program heralded the case's official close last week, state taxpayers
also had something to celebrate: the end of a 10-year stream of legal bills
they will cover,” an August 26 Law Firm
Newswire article said.
The article explained that Judge Adalberto Jordan certified
a settlement in a case which required the state of Florida to pay $12 million
in legal fees to attorneys defending parents and pediatric providers.
“The state must also work with both groups to correct the
problems identified in the lawsuit — namely that the more than 2 million poor
children enrolled in Medicaid must have access to health care and
administrative hurdles to care need to be addressed,” the court document said.
The $12 million in settlement payments is in addition to the
state's own legal fees, the article explained, and these charges will require
taxpayers to cover the state's expenses, as well as $12 million in legal fees
that the pediatricians and parents won in the settlement.
“The agreement is good news for Medicaid-enrolled children,
who for the length of the case have not seen significantly improved access to
health care, according to state and federal data,” the article said. “In 2014,
just 53 percent of kids who should have seen a doctor actually saw one. That’s
actually lower than the rate in 2004, before the case was filed.”
The article further explained that the low rates of health
care access were also cited as a leading concern by pediatricians in a
statewide survey. Because of this, the settlement required that Medicaid
agencies must regularly meet with pediatricians and pediatric dentists to make
sure that Medicaid insurance companies increase the percentage of children
receiving health care to meet the national averages for Medicaid-enrolled
children across the country.
Eighteen months after Jordan found that the state was
violating federal Medicaid law and denying children adequate medical and dental
care, the settlement offered some resolution. Despite the court’s support of
Jordan’s ruling, the state objected and the two sides litigated for another
year before coming to a preliminary agreement this April.
The deal resolved most issues raised in the case, wrote
Stuart Singer, lead attorney for the parents and pediatricians, in a motion for
“The settlement will provide much of the relief that
plaintiffs sought in litigation, while providing for ongoing cooperation
between plaintiff medical and dental associations and the defendants in
improving Florida’s Medicaid program,” Singer said in a press statement.
The Agency for Health Care Administration said in a press
release following the preliminary settlement that they were working on better methods
to accommodate children who need health care.
“(The Agency for Health Care Administration) is making
improvements that will have a positive impact on the overall health of children
enrolled in the Florida Medicaid program and is committed to improved quality
outcomes and higher standards of care,” the agency said.
The Law Firm Newswire article stressed that although a settlement
has been met, and the system should work better for those who qualify for Medicaid
moving forward, the system’s initial shortcomings have created more tax burden
in the process.