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 settlement.
“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.