Manatee Memorial CEO proposes another vote on health care surtax

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 23, 2014 

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Ambulances pack the emergency room parking area at Manatee Memorial Hospital. Health care executive Kevin DiLallo has suggested making another effort to pass a surtax to pay for health care for the poor in Manatee County.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- The chief executive officer of Manatee Healthcare System has proposed another surtax to pay for health care for the poor.

Manatee County commissioners met recently with hospital executive Kevin DiLallo, who proposed placing the measure on the November election ballot.

It's a repeat of an issue decided during an election last June when voters overwhelmingly rejected a half-cent sales tax increase to finance health care for the poor with more than 60 percent voting "no."

"The people have spoken," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, referring to last year's election results.

Asked how commissioners received his latest idea, DiLallo said: "They all listened very carefully and intently, and I think they all realize something has to be done."

County Commissioner Michael Gallen said he supports a surtax to finance indigent care but not without a formal plan to spend the money the surtax would raise. He said no such plan is in place.

"I feel we have to have a holistic plan in place for preventative care -- not focused primarily on emergency room care -- because we need something more efficient and effective in our health care system," Gallen said.

Commission Chairman Larry Bustle acknowledged discussions have taken place, but said after the county commission meeting Tuesday: "Nobody brought it up today."

Once the commission starts discussing the budget in coming months, health care numbers will have to be updated, he said. Right now, there are not enough facts, he said.

DiLallo said the fact is paying for indigent care is a growing concern.

"...We should be proactive by trying to solve the problem before it becomes a problem. One of the concerns during the last election was the expense, and there's no expense in the fall election to put it on the ballot," DiLallo said. "If we aren't going to be proactive in 2014, I don't know what the plan is going to be in 2015, and all our indigent patients can't come through the emergency room."

During a heated campaign last year, supporters said implementing a surtax would mean a property tax cut -- yet almost 61 percent of voters rejected the proposal, which would have generated $23 million annually for indigent patient care.

Money the county set aside for indigent care in 1984, resulting from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital, is expected to run out next year.

DiLallo acknowledged his hospitals could potentially benefit if voters OK'd a new surtax, although he noted it would probably be accomplished with a formal contract similar to the one in effect right now.

In 2011, the county signed a three-year agreement for indigent care estimated at up to $9.033 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.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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