It puzzles me that Obamacare is a leading argument against public funding of healthcare costs at the local level and perhaps a driving reason why many Manatee voters rejected the June 18 half-cent sales tax to fund indigent care.
Yet a June 30 guest editorial by Richard Conard states just this: the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- commonly known as Obamacare -- is the long-awaited solution to Manatee County's $23 million healthcare predicament.
Conard's piece reveals that he either lacks a firm understanding of our local problem or he simply has a vivid imagination. Let's think about Obamacare for a moment.
This is the 2,400-page federal healthcare overhaul which the Republican Party has vowed to undo, which has yet to be fully funded by a highly partisan Congress and which has been roundly rejected by GOP-dominated legislatures, including our own.
Conard says it's unlikely Florida will pass up $51 billion in federal health care funding but he fails to recognize that it already has. The Florida Legislature debated accepting the federal dollars this year, but no proposal -- not even the idea Conard erroneously refers to as the "Negrone" plan -- ever got any serious traction.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, arguably the most powerful voice in Tallahassee today, has made it clear he has zero desire to expand Medicare in Florida.
This spring, after months of public discussion, Manatee County commissioners decided to ask the citizens of Manatee County to consider the half-cent sales tax. The board, facing a looming budget hole of $9 million in 2015 to fund local healthcare, understood that Obamacare comes with a host of unknowns, not least of which is whether it will be fully implemented in Florida.
Rather than take a chance on Obamacare, the board proceeded with a proactive plan. Voters rejected the half-cent, and we're still faced with a very costly dilemma.
Conard charges our local referendum was "premature and unneeded" and he states that the public needed to be more involved when the sales tax referendum was formulated and proposed.
But let's discuss something else Conard doesn't know or what he simply chooses to ignore.
Providing access to quality healthcare for the medically poor of our community has been a pressing concern for years. A Health Care Access task force was chartered in the mid-2000s to explore options to replace the healthcare fund, which many knew would eventually expire and leave huge questions for how to ensure access to quality care in our area.
The group committed to offering fair solutions that would ensure care for our working poor and indigent. Among that committee's recommendations was an independent 2008 study that called for a host of solutions, including a half-cent sales tax referendum to cover local costs for indigent healthcare. Later a Health Care Alliance comprised of 53 members (including Conard) from a cross section of community stakeholders was formed to further explore the issue. The College of Public Health of USF-Tampa dedicated a research project to help develop the direction for the healthcare plan moving forward.
The Manatee unit of the state Health Department participated to ensure an understanding of the wide spectrum of needs. The county commission hosted four televised half-day work sessions in 2012 and 2013 devoted entirely to healthcare so that our community would understand how critical this is.
In sum, over the past five years literally hundreds of work hours, discussions and meetings involving some of this community's brightest minds have been dedicated to solving this issue. These have been conducted during public meetings with the assistance of a broad base of healthcare experts, business groups and county staff to ensure every reasonable avenue was explored.
Conard says ours is a solution seeking a problem that will "Simply ... be largely alleviated by Obamacare." Considering much of the widespread confusion over the federal healthcare overhaul and the fact that very few people have read all 897 documents associated with the bill, it's refreshing to know such an authority on Obamacare resides in our own community!
Conard writes with the authority of a leader on our healthcare problems. The question I'd pose to him is: Where has he been all this time we've been trying to solve them?
Ed Hunzeker, is Manatee County government administrator.