Manatee Seeks Temporary Fix for Indigent Care

By White, Dale | Sarasota Herald Tribune, September 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

Manatee Seeks Temporary Fix for Indigent Care


White, Dale, Sarasota Herald Tribune


MANATEE COUNTY

With the current contracts expiring in a week, the Manatee County Commission today is expected to strike new pacts with health care providers to help cover the cost of treating Medicaid, underinsured and uninsured patients.

Yet the contracts are just a temporary fix for the county's troubled indigent care trust fund. And, to stretch what dollars remain, the agreements call for lowering the income eligibility levels for those who qualify.

"It will be able to last a little longer," county spokesman Nick Azzara said of the fund.

During the recession, the commission increased income eligibility for the subsidies from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent.

The health care providers have agreed to return to the 138 percent maximum.

For an individual, the annual income limit would be reduced from $23,340 to $16,105. For a family of four, it would be reduced from $47,700 to $32,913.

In 1984, the county took $45 million from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital to establish the fund.

During the recession, the fund's investment earnings started dropping and the commissioners started dipping into its principal to make payments.

By the beginning of the county's 2011-12 fiscal year, the fund had a balance of more than $34.7 million. By the time the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the fund balance is expected to be about $6.9 million.

The agreements call for the county to set aside $5.43 million from the fund next year for indigent care spending and add $1.7 million from the general fund -- bringing the total available for hospitals, clinics and physicians to $7.16 million.

Manatee Memorial Hospital expects to receive $4.7 million. Blake Medical Center, which treats fewer indigent patients at its emergency room, would get $670,000.

Manatee County Rural Health Services, which provides preventive services intended to keep patients from requiring emergency care elsewhere, would be eligible for $794,170.

By receiving local funding for indigent care, the two hospitals and Rural Health's clinics can be eligible to get additional state and federal dollars through the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Another $1 million would be direct payments to physicians.

Manatee Glens, a mental health hospital, expects to have its next agreement on a commission agenda in October.

Mary Ruiz, chief executive of Manatee Glens, said she expects the agency's funding to stay "level." For the past two years, it qualified for $1.2 million.

"These funds are for life-saving services," Ruiz said, noting that Manatee Glens offers the only detoxification unit in the county. …

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