House bill would allow more hospital competition giving patients options

A bill opening the door to more hospitals passed in the Florida House. The legislation would create competition in the marketplace, giving the patient more options and lower medical costs.

“I don’t think they should mess around with something that isn’t broken,” Robert Semilofi said about health care options in Southwest Florida, following two recent experiences at Lee Health. “I’ve been very happy with the quality of the healthcare I’ve received since I’ve been here.”

But, Representative Heather Fitzenhagen said House Bill 21 is about more than the quality of care. It is also about choices and what you pay. She points to current law’s certificate of need or “con,” which she said stifles competition.

It is an “artificial impediment to market-driven healthcare service expansion,” Fitzenhagen said.

Fitzenhagen is fighting to increase competition between hospitals.

“What is going to be the driving force is the market, free market and competition,” she said.

WINK News reached out to Lee Health to get its take on the situation. CEO Larry Antonucci, in an e-mailed response, said:

“As the region’s safety net health system, we have the duty to care for our community’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. We continue to examine how these proposed bills may impact our ability to effectively provide health care for Medicaid and charity care patients in Southwest Florida.

“At this time, we believe the language in the Senate version of the bill is better suited to allow safety net hospitals to continue to effectively care for vulnerable patients regardless of their ability to pay. While the bills aren’t perfect, we are working with our partners in the legislature to advocate for language that will allow us to continue to provide the best possible health care for our community.”

Likewise, in Collier County, NCH Healthcare System said:

“NCH is supportive of the state’s current certificate of need laws as a responsible approach to sensible regulation that limits the unnecessary duplication of very expensive health care services that add to health care costs that are ultimately passed along to all of us.”

Currently, both facilities are fighting other medical operations from expanding in Southwest Florida. Both entities do not want laws to change. Susan Valdes, a Democratic representative, worries what the bill could mean for the doctor shortage in Florida.

“Repealing the health planning process that the CON enables will only exacerbate this problem,” Valdes said.

“I don’t think that the CON removal is going to have anything to do with increasing any kind of shortage for doctors,” Fitzenhagen said.

Regardless of what happens, Semilofi remains realistic.

“I hope I don’t have to use it as much,” Semilofi said. “But as I get older, things happen.”

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To contact Heather Fitzenhagen:

Phone: (239) 533-2440

Address: 2120 Main St. Suite 208 Fort Myers, FL 33901-3010

Reporter:Channing Frampton
Writer:Michael Mora
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