Florida county faces $300M in hospital bills after court ruling

The Florida Supreme Court upheld a state law Thursday requiring Sarasota County to reimburse private hospitals for providing care to poor patients, according to the Herald-Tribune.

The justices upheld the 2003 law in a 5-2 ruling in a case brought by three Florida hospitals — Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, Englewood Community Hospital and Venice Regional Bayfront Health.

The hospitals filed suit in 2011 after the county refused to reimburse them for care provided to indigent patients under the "special law," which only applies to hospitals in Sarasota County and not the rest of the state. The three hospitals claimed that if the county did not provide the reimbursement private hospitals would be at a disadvantage compared to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, which is a public entity with property taxing authority. However, the trial court sided with the county, holding that private corporations in the state are not entitled to taxpayer dollars, according to the report.

The hospitals appealed the decision, and the appellate court ruled in favor of the county.

The hospitals challenged the appeals court decision, arguing the law does not grant a privilege to private hospitals in the county because it also applies to public hospitals. The state high court agreed and overturned the appeals court ruling.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that all hospitals in the county should be treated the same when it comes to funding for indigent care," Doctors Hospital CEO Robert Meade told the Herald-Tribune.

The ruling in the case, which is now headed back to the trial court, could leave Sarasota County on the hook for $300 million in medical bills, according to the Associated Press

Sarasota County said it was disappointed in the court's ruling and will "vigorously defend the lawsuit on a number of grounds which were not before the Florida Supreme Court," according to the Herald-Tribune.

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