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Tea Party defends counties in Medicaid billing dispute

Around Florida, Tea Party advocates are among the most vocal critics of local government spending and services. But this time, Tea partiers are siding with counties in their fight against the state.

The stakes: nearly $78 million in increased Medicaid costs.

The Florida Tea Party Network, a lose coalition of more than 80 groups around the state, has mobilized its members to lobby against the state’s attempt to force counties to pay back roughly $300 million in disputed Medicaid bills over 3 years.

The state wants to get that money, as well as future Medicaid payments, by withholding revenue sharing dollars from counties. That in an unfair burden on local governments that will hurt taxpayers, the Tea Party says.

“This is going to require counties to cut services or raise taxes to pay for what the state is mandating for the counties,” said Henry Kelley of Ft. Walton Beach, the Tea Party Network’s legislative liaison.

Led by the Florida Association of Counties, local governments have been lobbying senators heavily to amend or kill HB 5301, which outlines the new payment plan. The legislation would require counties to either pay back 85 percent of the disputed bills over a three-year period or prove to an administrative judge that the amounts are incorrect.

But the state is only going to allow counties to question the residency of people they have been asked to pay for, while other errors like multiple billings or incorrect amounts can’t be questioned, the counties argue.

The Association of Counties estimates that Hillsborough would have to pay as much as $26.3 million in the upcoming year, a nearly $11 million increase. Miami-Dade’s bill would be $72.6 million, or $22.6 million more.

Broward’s bill would rise nearly $15 million higher to $35 million. Pinellas County’s Medicaid costs would more than double to $24.3 million.