Forbes and his group, Consejo de Latinos Unidos, are running attack ads on television, radio and in newspapers that maliciously accuse hospitals of not providing large enough discounts to the uninsured. Forbes also is airing ads that mischaracterize the FHA's unprecedented proposal to enact a state law that would mandate discounts for uninsured patients with annual family incomes of up to at least $55,000.
The FHA said media outlets should immediately cease airing Forbes' ads because of their intentionally misleading and irresponsible nature.
"Forbes is criticizing the very hospitals that provide Florida's uninsured with $1.5 billion in free care annually, and that take all comers, regardless of their ability to pay," said Ralph Glatfelter, a Senior Vice President of the FHA. "Florida's hospitals provide free care to thousands of our Hispanic citizens, which cost hospitals $370 million last year."
In response to Forbes' attacks, the FHA called on Forbes to give the press and the public an immediate, full accounting of exactly who is paying for his campaign, and to disclose the true nature of his agenda. Forbes is a longtime political activist who formerly worked on the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan.
In January, Forbes acknowledged to The Miami Herald that he had received $100,000 in start-up money from a foundation controlled by J. Patrick Rooney, who was then head of Golden Rule Insurance Company. The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2003 that Forbes is "secretive about his funding."
Forbes' group is set up as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The group's 2002 IRS tax filing -- which it has acknowledged is incomplete -- shows that it reported only $76,156 in revenue and that Forbes receives no compensation from the group.
Yet Forbes is somehow able to fly all over the United States to attack hospitals, and is airing attack ads in several major markets. In Tallahassee, Forbes is openly boasting to the press that he is waging an "aggressive media campaign" that includes an initial six-figure advertising buy.
The FHA said it is time for Forbes to answer who is footing the bill.
"In the interest of fairness and openness, it's time for you to give a complete accounting of your relationship with insurance companies and political organizations," Glatfelter said. "The Florida media -- and the public -- deserve complete answers if they are to get the full picture of what's happening here in this legislative session."
In 2002 alone, Florida's hospitals provided $1.5 billion in uncompensated care to the uninsured. Glatfelter noted that under FHA's proposed legislation, most hospitals would offer discounts greater than the 30 percent mandated in the bill, and would extend those discounts to people whose family incomes are greater than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $55,000 annually.
Meanwhile, the FHA also urged the insurance industry to halt the legislative campaign it is waging against hospitals under the guise of "consumerism." This campaign is attempting to further boost HMO profits while harming the state's already strained emergency rooms.
HMOs are backing legislation that would cap payments that HMOs make for emergency room services provided to insured patients who use non-contracted hospitals and doctors. This legislation is conservatively estimated to cost hospitals in excess of $1 billion, which would eliminate all hospital profits in the state. This proposal is juxtaposed against a backdrop in which HMO profits are at a 10-year high, following four straight years of double-digit premium increases.
"The upshot of this legislation is price-fixing and a legislated transfer of a billion dollars from the state's ERs to the state's HMOs," Glatfelter said. "Florida's HMOs are trying to further line their pockets at the expense of our state's 'safety net' -- emergency rooms that are already struggling to keep pace with the millions of people seeking treatment."
The FHA also said the attempt by HMOs to obtain hospital charge masters -- which can run thousands of pages long -- is of little practical use to consumers. However, the charge masters can be used by HMOs to obtain an advantage over hospitals in contract negotiations. Glatfelter noted that hospitals support the creation of a consumer index that combines cost information with quality and outcome data -- something truly useful to consumers.
The FHA noted that Forbes and his group have never proposed any specific initiatives that would help uninsured citizens to obtain insurance. Likewise, the FHA challenged Florida's HMOs to explain to the media and public exactly what level of commitment they've made to providing "charity" health insurance coverage to the state's uninsured citizens, and to document when HMOs have ever offered discounted health insurance premiums to citizens with limited incomes.