Senate weighs using concealed-carry fees on mass shooting health costs

In a move sparking opposition from some Republicans, Florida senators are considering a proposal to use money collected from gun owners seeking concealed-weapons licenses to pay medical costs for victims of mass shootings.

The Senate has included the proposal in a major school-safety and gun-regulation measure drawn up in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people. The push to steer money to trauma centers came from Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens.

» RELATED: Post coverage of the Broward County shooting

Gino Santorio, Broward Health executive vice president and chief operating officer, applauded the proposal.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy in our community and appreciate the state’s support in times like these,” he said in a statement to the News Service of Florida.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

Seventeen patients were treated at the health system’s hospitals following the shooting at Douglas High School. The system also treated 54 patients following the January 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where five people were killed.

But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican running for governor this year, blasted the idea of using concealed-weapons license money for trauma centers. Putnam oversees the department that is charged with issuing concealed-weapons licenses.

“I oppose taxing law-abiding concealed weapon licenses for atrocities carried out by criminals,” Putnam said in a prepared statement. “If anyone should be taxed for those heinous acts, it should be criminals. The monster who murdered 17 people in Parkland wasn’t even eligible to have a concealed weapon license.”

The proposal also doesn’t seem to have support from House leaders, who have not included trauma funding to their bill dealing with guns and school safety.

Under Braynon’s proposal, $10 million in concealed-weapons license fees would be shifted to the Attorney General’s Office. Trauma centers would apply for reimbursements, which would be based on a fee schedule. Reimbursement would have to be accepted as payment in full, and trauma centers could not bill the victims.

House budget chief Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said he was sympathetic to the victims but said the proposal didn’t make sense.

“I can understand for maybe the indigent,” Trujillo said.” But I think a lot of variables need to be considered,” such as patients’ insurance coverage and whether hospitals are part of public health systems.

If a victim is covered by a commercial insurance plan, the carrier is likely to reimburse the hospitals more than the state ever would, Trujillo said. Moreover, even if the insurance was “subsidized,” there still is some type of insurance coverage a carrier is obliged to pay, he said.

“I think there’s a lot more going on than just saying we are going to give them (trauma centers) money just because of mass casualties,” Trujillo said. “We’re 100 percent sympathetic with the victims, and they shouldn’t be charged co-pays. And we should help them as much as we can. But how is that different than any other traumatic event? These are trauma centers. So how is that different than the lady who got hit by the drunk driver?”

This isn’t the first time the Legislature has been asked to provide funding to hospitals that treat patients from mass shootings like the one at the Parkland high school.

A similar request was made during the 2017 session by two Republican lawmakers. But the idea never gained momentum and wasn’t part of budget discussions. The money would have been available to any trauma center or emergency department with a graduate medical education program that treated victims of mass casualties or disease outbreaks.

Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, noted in a budget request that there was “overwhelming support in communities where trauma centers responded to mass casualty incidents — in particular in Orlando when Orlando Health’s Level I trauma center so effectively managed the Pulse mass casualty incident.”

Orlando Health’s Orlando Regional Medical Center treated 35 patients at its trauma center in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. Orlando Health billed for $5 million in health-care services that weren’t reimbursed, most of it stemming from the trauma center, said Kena Lewis, Orlando Health director of public affairs.

David Strong, President and CEO of Orlando Health, said he appreciates Braynon’s efforts.

“As the only Level One Trauma Center in Central Florida, we understand the mental, emotional and financial toll these horrific tragedies have on a community,” Strong said in an emailed statement. “A fund like the one proposed will provide some level of certainty and relief for healthcare organizations who are charged with providing life-saving care to these victims.”

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