MANATEE -- Within a week or two, Manatee County will run out of money to pay medical providers who care for the poor, officials said Monday.
The county's three-year agreement allocates $1 million annually for reimbursing medical providers, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach manager.
"A very small amount remains, and the county will continue to process claims in the order they're received until funding is completely exhausted within a week or two," he said.
Such news is no surprise to most in the medical community.
"I think the providers understand there isn't an unlimited source of reimbursement dollars, and that those dollars are consumed quickly each year," Azzara said.
The funds will be fully expended in the next few weeks, based on qualifying invoices processed on a first-come, first-served basis, wrote Brenda Rogers, director of the county Community Services Department, in a letter to providers dated earlier this month.
"At this time, we request that you do not submit anymore invoices for payment," she wrote. "Once the funds are exhausted, all unprocessed claims will be returned."
By law, hospitals cannot turn patients away.
Doctors in private practice are treated differently.
"It would be at the provider's discretion as to whether or not they would provide service without payment," Azzara said.
Asked what would happen when the money runs out, County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said: "Those are excellent questions. I haven't been briefed on what they're expecting. I suspect it'll come up in a workshop soon, I haven't been told anything, actually.
"I'll ask them tomorrow," she said.
Valerie Vale, executive director for the Manatee County Medical Society, which represents doctors, said she has heard no complaints.
About 80 providers last year were paid from money set aside for treating indigent patients during a maximum of three follow-up visits after hospital stays. In 2011, the county signed a three-year agreement for indigent care estimated at $9 million annually with Manatee Healthcare Systems Inc., which operates Manatee Memorial and its affiliate, Lakewood Ranch Regional Medical Center; and HCA Health Services of Florida, which operates Blake Medical Center.
The deal included two hospital contracts, and up to $1 million per year for physician payments, according to an agenda memorandum from the commission dated June 21, 2011.
There has been no discussion of any reimbursement agreement beyond the one in effect now, which expires Sept. 30, said Azzara.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.