CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners host the first public hearing on the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget Thursday, Sept. 6, 6 p.m., in the fifth floor assembly room of the county courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater. The second and final hearing is Tuesday, Sept. 18, same time and same location.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners host the first public hearing on the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget Thursday, Sept. 6, 6 p.m., in the fifth floor assembly room of the county courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.
The second and final hearing is Tuesday, Sept. 18, same time and same location. At that time, commissioners must give final approval of millage rates and budgets. The budget year begins Oct. 1.
Property owners throughout the county received their Truth in Millage notices from the Property Appraiser’s office last week. Residents likely noticed the increase in the general fund and Emergency Medical Services millage rates levied by the county.
Commissioners have yet to come to consensus on the millage rate increases recommended by County Administrator Bob LaSala. The administrator’s proposed budget increases the general fund millage from 4.8108 to 5.0307 and the rate for EMS from 0.8506 to 0.9158.
However, thanks to a lower than anticipated back billing from the state for Medicaid, LaSala promised to present a lower millage for commissioner’s consideration at the Sept. 6 meeting. As indicated on the message sent out with TRIM notices, the millage increase for the general fund is intended to pay for “unexpected Medicaid billings” from the state.
At a commission meeting Aug. 21, a staff recommendation was approved to accept a revised Medicaid bill from the state and take the 15 percent discount. The county had to make a decision by Sept. 1 whether to accept the bill as is and take the discount or challenge the bill and hope enough erroneous bills could be verified to make up the difference.
Since the initial bill came in for more than $33 million in unanticipated retroactive Medicaid costs, county staff has been working to verify charges and negotiate with the state. Gwendolyn Warren, director of Health and Human Services explained the three-pronged approach to “address the systemic problems with the new law.”
First, the commissioners joined with Florida Association of Counties to oppose the bill that changed the way Medicaid was billed and collected. Second, staff worked with Pinellas County’s legislative team and other counties, as well as the state to negotiate changes to the initial billing. The county also joined with 54 other counties to challenge the legislation in the courts.
Warren said the county administrator added a fourth prong in July when he facilitated staff’s ability to review of the backlog bills more efficiently. The county used the services of LexisNexis to search databases of public information to verify whether the persons associated with the bills were Pinellas County residents at the time a Medicaid charge was made on their behalf in another county.
Meanwhile, the state found that more than 50 percent of charges billed to counties could not be substantiated. On Aug. 1, the state sent Pinellas County a new bill for just over $17.8 million to pay for charges from Nov.1, 2001 to April 30, 2012 – a 46 percent reduction from the original bill of more than $33 million.
County staff began reviewing charges on the new bill, using the capabilities of the LexisNexis databases and reports to identify another $2.1 million in inaccurate hospital and nursing home claims. The state is currently reviewing those bills and agreed to credit the county for any claims found to be inaccurate.
Warren told commissioners if they accepted the state’s latest bill for $17.8 million, the county could save nearly $2.7 million through the 15 percent discount. If the state agrees with the county on the $2.1 million in potential inaccurate bills, Pinellas’ Medicaid debt from the past 10 years could go down to just over $12.9 million.
Warren said that while the numbers weren’t set in stone, she believed it would be in the best interest of the county to accept the bill and take the discount.
“We probably won’t benefit from further review of the bill,” she said.
She said staff would keep the “forensic review process” in use for future Medicaid billings. She also said that the savings from the process outweighed the cost. She cautioned that despite the good work done to bring down retroactive bills, future charges could be higher due to increase of people becoming eligible for Medicaid due to the economy.