June 14, 2024

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Hospitals’ Medicare over-reliance strains health-care access for others

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COVID-19 has left deep scars on families and neighborhoods across Florida as we cope with the loss of loved ones and longer-term health effects. For Latino working families, the pain has been even worse.

According to the CDC, Hispanic or Latino persons are 1.1 times as likely to die from the virus as white, non-Hispanic persons. A nationwide survey found half of Latinos have a family member or close friend who was hospitalized or died from COVID-19. Half of Latinos say that they or someone in their household lost a job or took a pay cut during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Florida’s Puerto Rican community already struggled to find reliable, affordable health care. Many of us work in service and care jobs where employers refuse to offer affordable coverage. One-quarter of the heroic front-line caregivers who kept Florida going are Hispanic. They have worked tirelessly in unimaginable conditions, putting their own lives and health on the line to heal and care for all of us, even as many do not have stable coverage for their own families.

But some of Florida’s more powerful elected officials and our state’s largest hospital corporation are making choices that make it harder for Puerto Rican families to get covered.

HCA, the largest hospital corporation in the country, owns 43 hospitals in Florida, giving it significant influence over our health-care system. Last month, nurses and hospital workers who work for HCA, through their union, released a report with evidence showing how HCA may be routinely over-admitting Medicare patients.

These over-admissions may have allowed HCA to rake in nearly $2 billion in overcharges to the Medicare program that we all fund through our taxes. HCA hospitals in Florida have an emergency department admission rate above the state’s already-high average. Out of the nearly $2 billion HCA may have brought in from over-admitting Medicare patients, $1.1 billion was taken from Florida.

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Over-admitting patients can put people at risk and put more stress on health-care workers who have been pushed to the limit. It can drive up costs for all of us, pricing access out of reach.

Instead of holding powerful companies like HCA accountable and helping everyone get access to the basic care we all need to thrive, too many of our state’s leaders ignore the challenges facing working people.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has stood in the way of Floridians’ access to health care for years. In 2020, he vetoed scores of proposals to improve access, eliminating $58 million lawmakers included in the state budget to retain healthcare workers.

Sen. Rick Scott also stands in the way, opposing any effort to expand Medicaid. He knows firsthand how powerful companies like HCA can divert money out of health-care programs. While Scott served as a top executive at HCA, the company pled guilty to 14 felonies for fraud and paid $1.7 billion in fines — the largest health-care fraud case in American history.

We are calling for answers and accountability. Our communities deserve better. So does everyone who has received care at an HCA hospital. The money we invest in Medicare should provide quality care for seniors, not enrich executives and shareholders at the nation’s wealthiest hospital corporation.

Congress and state regulators should investigate these allegations to ensure transparency and accountability when it comes to Medicare. Puerto Rican working families are ready to join together with Floridians of all walks of life to make our voices heard. Let’s register to vote and elect leaders who will hold companies like HCA accountable and help all families get access to affordable care.

Maria Revelles and Jimmy Torres, both of Orlando, are part of the Co-Founders team of La Mesa Boricua de Florida, a movement to strengthen the power and well-being of Puerto Ricans through political representation, and economic empowerment, and cultural affirmation.

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