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Hidalgo-County-SealState Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa addressed Hidalgo County Commissioners in their Tuesday, July 22, meeting, telling them creation of the proposed hospital district is required if the county is to receive proper funding for indigent care. The state legislature met in Austin recently to approve placement of a hospital district on the November ballot.

Hinojosa said the hospital district would create a new tax that would be capped at $0.25 per $100 valuation. Estimates of the tax had been as much as $0.75 but Hinojosa said that amount would not happen. But it will not start at $0.25, he said. The proposal is a tax of $0.08 to $0.10 per $100 valuation. This tax will raise funds to take the place of the annual $8 million of the budget the county must now pay for indigent health care as this cost would be taken over by the health district. When the hospital district is created the county could then lower county taxes or use that money for other purposes.

The senator said Hidalgo, Cameron and Web Counties are without a hospital district, like most areas receiving money for indigent health care. Many large metropolitan areas have an entire hospital dedicated to indigent care. Valley counties work with private hospitals, as there are no public hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley.

Until recently, large metropolitan areas, such as Houston and Dallas, had been asked to share a portion of the indigent health care funding with the Valley counties. However, with rising medical costs, these districts are no longer willing to share.

Hinojosa emphasized that without creating the proposed hospital district there was a possibility Hidalgo County and the other counties could be required to pay the entire cost of their indigent health care. Currently, there is a special formula in place that returns $3 for each $1 the county pays for indigent health care. Without that formula the cost of health care for the indigent could cost Hidalgo County taxpayers $24 million instead of $8 million.

In addition to providing money for indigent health care, the program would provide funding for the new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.

Hinojosa told commissioners that even with the proposed funding, money for the medical school could be about $5 million short per year. Meetings have been held with the county and cities involved to discuss the funding shortage. The county has agreed to contribute $1 million per year, as has Edinburg. McAllen will contribute $2 million, while Mission and Pharr will each contribute $500,000 a year for the next 10 years.

The issue that remained to be resolved was the question of how many people would serve on the Hidalgo County Hospital Board and who would be appointed to that board. The board could have from five to nine members. Commissioners could serve on the board or they could appoint other people to serve.

Debate centered on whether elected officials should serve on the board or whether people who do not have to answer to the public would be asked to serve. Some commissioners felt they should have the responsibility since they are the elected officials.

Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Pct. 4, said he felt it was critical for commissioners to keep a close eye on what was going on and they should serve on the board.

Virginia Townsend, OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) member, told commissioners she did not think the hospital district would “be palatable” unless the cities also had some say in the matters. Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Flores made a motion that board members serve two-year terms.

After discussion, it was decided to add two city representatives to the board.

Hinojosa asked the commissioners how much micromanagement of the statute to be placed on the November ballot they wanted to have.

Other questions on funding centered around where money for matching grants would be found. If the $5 million raised by the cities, was needed to fund the medical school, where would the funds for grants the hospitals apply for come from if the grants call for local matches.

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