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Hearing held on health care funding at county

Hidalgo-County-SealA public hearing on proposed health care funding for the Hidalgo County Health Care Funding District was held during the Tuesday, Nov. 26, meeting of the Hidalgo County Commissioners. Unfortunately, Health and Human Services Director Eddie Olivarez said the final figures had not yet been handed down by the state so there was not a final amount to tell commissioners. The amount levied by the state will affect the amount of money for indigent care that Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb Counties, the three poorest counties in the state will receive for indigent care.

Senate Bill 1623 works with a fee on hospitals rather than residents, which is the basis for the revenue that the counties will receive based on the fiscal year 2010. Olivarez said that the final figure was not yet ready but Hidalgo County would receive 2.7 to 3.5 percent of all funds set aside for indigent care throughout the state. Revenues for membership hospitals would be $1.2 billion and there would be up to 120 days to collect the revenues after the numbers are finalized. The percentage collected by the county would be multiplied by $1.50 for every dollar. For every $1 put into the pot, the county will receive $2.50.

Carlos Zaffirini, consultant with Hidalgo County Clinical Services Inc. (non- governmental) private 501(C)3 representing hospitals in Hidalgo County, said the South Texas Region lost $300-400 million in revenues the first year because they had no mechanism to collect the funds. Most larger cities like Houston, Dallas and San Antonio have hospital districts that were created to manage indigent care funds. None of the Valley counties have a hospital district, which would require another property tax. S.B. 1623 was created to give Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron Counties a mechanism to garner a fair portion of indigent care funds from the state by taxing the hospitals.

Without S.B. 1623 authorizing the local hospitals to be taxed to create the matching money from their taxes, the matching funds designated for the three counties would go into the state funding pot for indigent care. Then instead of being returned to the Valley, the money would be divided between hospital districts in other parts of the state and the Rio Grande Valley, the three poorest counties in the state, received no additional funds for indigent care.

Olivarez stated the federal government authorized a total of $29 billion for Texas for five years. The four Valley Counties were authorized $802 million of matching funds. However the counties do not have taxable revenues to maximize federal government match. Therefore S.B.1623 was developed to allow the county to set a participation fee toward private hospitals in the county. The fund is referred to as a county health fund. Without the Hidalgo County Funding District, Hidalgo County would not have the matching funds needed to get federal funds. In the event S.B. 1623 had not been developed and the health district had not been formed, hundreds for millions of dollars in federal match may have been swept by larger metropolitan areas in Texas.

Zaffirini said that other districts such as Lubbock had already figured their portion of the money the Rio Grande Valley was not receiving into their medical budgets and were shocked when S.B. 1632 was approved, giving the Valley counties an opportunity to garner a share of the funding because that means substantially less money for care in their areas. Zaffirini said that S.B. 1623 combined with the new medical school approved for the Rio Grande Valley would have a positive affect on medical services available for Valley residents for many years to come.

In summing up the situation, Olivarez said Hidalgo County hospitals have total net revenues of $1.2 billion. That revenue would have a fee set between 2.7 to 3.5 percent, which is yet to be determined. Once that percentage is determined, the Hidalgo County tax office will have up to 120 days to collect those fees. Upon collection, those fees will be submitted by the county for the federal match. Once that match is returned to the hospitals, those funds will be used to fund indigent care services, specifically Medicaid approved programming, and enhance some of the medical school’s residency programs. The overall result is greater access to health care for Hidalgo County residents and improving quality of life for generations to come.

In other business

Olivarez said this program has nothing to do with the affordable care, which is a totally separate program. Nor will this funding district impact the individual taxpayers.

In other action, UTPA Academic Partnership gave a presentation on how county employees could get a masters online in business administration or in public administration. Taking classes online, they could get a master’s degree in one to two years.

Commissioners Court also heard from Rio South Texas Economic Council, a consultant whose job it is to market South Texas (Hidalgo, Cameron Willacy and Star Counties) in a positive manner in order to attract national industry and growth.

It provides information such as the fact the port of Brownsville ranked number one of the Top 25 Foreign trade Zone exports in the United States in exports to other countries. It provides regional workforce information to companies considering a move to South Texas through providing demographics of the area for their consideration. It provides information on the quality of life in South Texas along with information on schools, sports, outdoor activities, weather and availability and cost of housing for those considering a move. After hearing the report, the court approved the $17,500 dues payment to the organization.

The sheriff’s office was given permission to budget for FY 2012 Operation Stonegarden Grant in the amount of $141,640.81. The grant provides overtime pay for law enforcement officers.

Urban County entered into an agreement on behalf of Palmview for street improvements in the amount of $344,169.

Commissioners were told there had been two disturbances at the courthouse in the past week. On Friday there was an area power shortage that may have begun at the courthouse. Then on Monday lint burning on heating coils gave out a burning odor causing the courthouse to be evacuated for two and a half hours while the fire department looked for a possible fire.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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