Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hospitals' Future: More Centralization

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hospitals' Future: More Centralization

Article excerpt

SERVICE CENTER OPENS: Will do billing for Venice Regional and others in area

SARASOTA COUNTY -- As Health Management Associates revs up a regional billing and service center here, the operator of Venice Regional Medical Center and dozens of other hospitals is giving Southwest Florida a slice of the nation's health care future.

Billing centralization is expected to be among the hospital functions operators move toward as the nation begins implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.

"I think it is a business that is completely aligned with where the Affordable Care Act -- otherwise known as Obamacare -- is taking us, namely, a laser focus on improving the efficiency of health care delivery," said Caroline Popper, president of Sarasota's Popper and Company LLC, an advisory firm with an emphasis on health care deals.

On Monday, Naples-based HMA hosted an official opening of its "regional service center," in one of the mirrored glass buildings that were once the technology headquarters for consultant Arthur Andersen on Fruitville Road.

Counting 148 jobs moved from Venice, plus an expected 217 or more new positions, HMA will employ 365 or more people in Sarasota within two years, said Alan Levine, an HMA senior vice president and Florida group president.

The service center is one of five that HMA has established nationwide.

The company's push to centralize its billing for the roughly two dozen hospitals it operates around Florida also comes as health care has consistently been one of the strongest employment sectors in recent years, despite the economic downturn.

That is especially true in Southwest Florida, where the region's counties are among the oldest per capita in the nation. In Sarasota County, one-third of the population is 65 or older.

"Health care has been a solid performer, and it is going to continue to be," said Christopher McCarty, director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "The nature of the economy is changing. Health care is just going to become a more prominent part of the goods and services that are exchanged."

In Florida, "we have a disproportionate elderly population here, and that is not going to change anytime soon," McCarty said. …

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