Panelists: No simple way to pay for indigent health care in Manatee

skennedy@bradenton.comNovember 19, 2013 

MANATEE — Nearly one-quarter of all Manatee County residents are uninsured or under-insured, posing a huge financial burden to the county.

County officials are having a difficult time finding ways to make up the costs for the 24 percent of county resident who are under- or uninsured.

Jennifer Bencie, administrator of the Manatee County Health Department, addressed the issue during a discussion organized by the League of Women Voters.

Panel participants at the Bradenton Woman’s Club included Bencie and Chuck Henry, administrators of the Florida Health Department in Manatee and Sarasota counties, respectively, and Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

With the defeat in June of the proposed surtax to pay for healthcare for the poor, Manatee County will have to fill a $9 million hole in its budget, said Hunzeker.

Margaret Moore, who said she was affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, asked how to encourage legislators to accept expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

Last spring, the Republican-led Florida Legislature rejected $51 billion over 10 years from the federal government to expand Medicaid, which would have provided health insurance to nearly one million needy people across the state.

Henry replied that the way the system operates now, those unable to qualify for Medicaid — such as healthy adults working but living in poverty — “are left with no options in today’s world.”

“That’s a policy decision made by legislatures,” he told her. “All I can recommend is that we gather the facts on how it impacts our local areas, how it impacts our local communities, and share that with our representatives.”

Other topics included whether the nation’s healthcare reform, called the Affordable Care Act, might benefit hospitals and whether schoolchildren are being properly immunized against disease through the health departments.

After the panel adjourned, League President Lee Pflueger said, “There are always varying opinions, but I think the more we have the opportunity to put people in front of these leaders, and these issues in front of our community, the greater informed the electorate will be.” Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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