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Following through on its demand for the West Volusia Hospital Authority to pay its share for Medicaid services, Volusia County has filed suit to recover the money.

A 19-page complaint filed in the Circuit Court Feb. 21 comes after the County Council voted Feb. 15 to take legal action against the Hospital Authority for withholding almost $2.5 million the county says it owes for its share of Medicaid bills. 

The county is asking the court to issue a writ of mandamus, as explained in a point of argument in the lawsuit.

“It is the law of Florida that mandamus is an appropriate remedy to force a recalcitrant public official to obey the law,” the lawsuit notes.

Medicaid is a federal program whose costs traditionally were shared by the federal government and the state. However, since 1972, Florida has required counties to contribute, too.

Volusia County and the Hospital Authority disagree about whether state law compels the Hospital Authority to also pay a portion of the county’s 2021-22 Medicaid cost of $7.65 million.

The county points to a portion of state law that says “In any county in which a special taxing district or authority is located which benefits from the Medicaid program, the board of county commissioners may divide the county’s financial responsibility for this purpose proportionately and each such district or authority must furnish its share to the board of county commissioners … . ”

But the Hospital Authority is refusing to pay, saying it does not “benefit” from Medicaid because it no longer owns any hospitals, and therefore is exempt from chipping in. The Hospital Authority has neither owned nor operated hospitals since 2000, when it sold its hospitals in DeLand and Orange City to Adventist Health System Sunbelt. 

Tasked to assure that those who cannot afford medical care still have access to services, the Hospital Authority levies property taxes in the western half of the county to pay for indigent care and also to fund organizations and activities that promote healthy living.

The Hospital Authority says the hospitals benefit from Medicaid, in that they receive payments for medical care given to those eligible to receive it — but the Hospital Authority itself does not receive any Medicaid payments.

Approximately 19 percent of the almost 575,000 people who call Volusia County home are eligible for Medicaid.

Anticipating the county would sue for the overdue Medicaid payment, the Hospital Authority has hired a Tampa attorney, John Mullen, to defend itself in court.

At this writing, Hospital Authority Chair Jennifer Coen said she had not been served with the lawsuit.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Kathryn Watson.

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