Florida legislator says trauma fees should be reduced

Lawmaker reacts to investigation showing huge fees

SARASOTA, Fla. - A recent I-Team/Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed outrageous fees charged to trauma patients at some Florida hospitals.

Now a member of the State House who knew nothing about those fees before says he's willing to take action to bring them down.

“Just to walk in the trauma center they charged us $33,000,” said Teri Jwanouskos, whose son was injured in an accident in January 2013.

Those large fees have become a terrifying reality for many Florida trauma patients.

“One accident, one injury, one tragedy can change everything in a second,” said Attorney Eric Romano, who represents trauma patients.

Enormous bills often start adding up the second patients arrive at the hospital.

“Sometimes they just see you as a dollar sign. I just think that's sad,” said Eric Leonhard, a trauma patient who was also issued a huge fee as soon as he was hospitalized after an accident in November 2012.

The ABC Action News I-Team in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times exposed these high costs in a first of its kind investigation earlier this month.

“A lot of your stories and a lot of that information have permeated over the last couple of weeks,” said Greg Steube, a member of the Florida House of Representatives.

Steube credits the investigation with making lawmakers aware of some of the huge costs their constituents are paying.

Those fees, which are intended to pay for such things as specialized equipment, on-call pay and advanced training, have risen rapidly in recent years, especially at Florida's six new trauma centers owned by Hospital Corporation of America.

There, the average fee is $27,000, 4 ½ times as much as at non-HCA hospitals.

 “Obviously that is not equitable to consumers, who are not really having an option of where they're going to be transported to, especially in a trauma situation,” Steube said.

Steube's district includes Blake Regional Medical Center, an HCA-owned hospital with the third highest trauma response fee in the state -- more than $29,000.

But Steube has co-sponsored a bill that would allow Blake and two other HCA hospitals to continue operating trauma centers, despite lawsuits aimed at shutting them down.

“I look at it as we need to ensure that our citizens, both in my district and the state, have adequate and quick access to trauma centers. I personally don't care who owns them,” he said.

Steube believes the high trauma response fees will be addressed within the next few weeks, either by the board of health or through the legislature.

But is he prepared to change his bill to deal with these high costs?

“Yeah, I would look at doing that in the trauma centers bill that we have moving through the legislature this year,” Steube said.

We reached out to all the legislators on the subcommittee that voted on the bill last week.

Bill sponsor Jason Broduer was the only other representative to reply, saying he looked forward to researching the issue of trauma costs further.

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