The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Rick Scott to get public records related to the state's Medicaid AIDS care contracts.
The nonprofit, through its subsidiary Positive Healthcare, serves 2,000 patients with AIDS and HIV in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The organization's contract to provide Medicaid managed care was not renewed for 2019.
Jeffrey Blend, assistant general counsel for the foundation, said the group is asking for copies of all communications between the Governor’s office and all applicants or bidders -- as well as their lobbyists -- for Florida’s Medicaid AIDS care contracts in the state Agency for Health Care Administration’s 11 service regions.
The action was filed last week in the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County. Blend said the state ignored repeated requests for these records, forcing the lawsuit.
“It has essentially has been ignored,” Blend said. “We waited the requisite time and still haven’t received any response. So our attorneys have filed a suit to compel the governor’s office to produce those records.”
In a separate public records request lawsuit filed against Scott in July, the same court granted AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s petition for a Writ of Mandamus ordering the Governor to make records of his schedule, calendar and other events—including campaign and fundraising events—publicly available by Sept. 15.
"The concern is that the state is needlessly disrupting this care with no good policy reason to do so,” Blend said.
But Mara Gambineri, Deputy Communications Director for Scott’s office, sent WUSF and Health News Florida a statement about the situation via email, which said the state has been actively communicating with AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s attorneys.
“We have been responsive to these extraordinarily extensive public records requests. This lawsuit is nothing more than a publicity stunt and a desperate attempt on behalf of a vendor who is upset that the state will be contracting with another service provider to offer HIV/AIDS services statewide following a transparent, competitive bid process.
“This vendor has even suggested that they would drop any public records lawsuits if they were awarded state contracts – that’s not in the best interests of taxpayers or the patients who will benefit from enhanced HIV/AIDS services. As we have already told this group, we will fulfill this extensive request for records as soon as possible.”
The statement did not answer a question about which provider would be taking care of Positive Healthcare’s 2,000 patients in 2019.
On Sept. 11, Reid Jack of the Office of Open Government emailed AIDS Healthcare Foundation attorney Ryan Andrews, updating the foundation on the public records request, saying it was recieved and acknowledged on July 31. The email also laid out the timeline in which they communciated with Andrews to clarify specifics of the request.
Blend said the state has assured them their patients will be taken care of, but he said he remains unconvinced.
“That is the party line the state Agency for Healthcare has put out, that no one is going to be affected because there are other providers, but it simply isn’t true,” Blend said. “The providers these 2,000 patients rely on are part of the managed care plan, and part of (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) that currently operates the contract as an HIV specialty plan and our physicians unfortunately will not be available to those patients if the state is successful in not awarding us a contract.”
Michael Kahane, the southern bureau chief for the foundation, said Positive Healthcare is the only not-for-profit in both counties serving HIV patients.
"It's important that these patients at least have the option to serve their care from a not-for-profit provider, someone who isn't interested in profits or shareholders, someone who is interested in patients being maintained in care, someone who is interested in reducing the community viral load,” Kahane said.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties rank first and second in Florida for the number of newly reported HIV infections.
“A lot of people think HIV and AIDS is something of the past, but the reality is one out of every 83 people in Miami-Dade County are HIV positive,” Kahane said. “So to say it’s something of the past is really like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.”
But when HIV patients are being treated properly, their ability to transmit the infection is virtually impossible.
“A lot of our patients have been in our care for many, many years,” Kahane said. “They trust our providers and they trust the staff they’re seeing. And many of our patients are vulnerable patients that can easily fall out of care.
“So to switch them to a new provider and hope that they’re going to make that transition and hope that they’re going to be comfortable with the new provider and they’re going to stay in care and remain virally suppressed is just not something that’s in the best health interest of the state of Florida.”