Sales tax the best option to pay for Manatee County's indigent health care

CommentaryMay 22, 2013 

Raising the local option sales tax from one half cent to a full cent is coming up for a vote in a referendum in June.

Someone said the half-cent sales tax proposal is a "shell game," implying that our local government has something to hide. My view it is just the opposite.

By and large I believe that Manatee County government has done a good job managing their budget and maintaining their Triple "A" credit rating despite this lengthy recession.

Other municipalities have not done as well. In fact the United States government lost its "triple A" credit rating during this same time period (Aug. 5, 2011).

I believe Manatee County was ahead of the curve when they partnered with the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce to fund a study on the State of Health Care System in Manatee County back in 2008.

This report, which was conducted by the University of South Florida's Center for Research in Healthcare Systems and Policy, can be accessed through a link from the Chamber of Commerce web page.

In simplest terms, the USF study recommends the integration of the three basic elements of our county health care delivery system -- accessibility, affordability and accountability. Some progress has been made in this direction but much more needs to be done.

Every community has indigent health care responsibilities, and statistics show that through the years Manatee County has done a better job than most in this regard in large part due to the cooperation of the hospitals and the physicians of Manatee County.

However, when the Indigent Health Care Fund becomes depleted in less than two years the county will be faced with a significant shortfall in its budget. That money will have to come from somewhere, and I would prefer it comes from a half-cent sales tax rather than ad valorum taxes.

I like the fact that money from the sales tax will be specifically directed toward health care expenses as opposed to coming from the county's general fund. Surrounding counties have already exercised their option to go to the full one-cent sales tax (Sarasota, Desoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk).

Also, as much as 30 percent of sales taxes are paid by non-resident visitors. I consider the sales tax proposal to be another example of our county leaders, both public and private, working together in a proactive way to protect the credit worthiness of our county by stabilizing the funding source for the uninsured.

Jim Rogers, MD, is a Bradenton resident who has served on Manatee County's Health Care Advisory Committee for the past four years.

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