Are Manatee County taxpayers liable for health costs for poor?

June 11, 2014 

Participants discussed many facets of health care during a "listening session" May 29 hosted by the Manatee County Commission.SARA KENNEDY/

The mind-numbing editorial in Sunday's paper tried to convince its readers that Manatee County bigwigs are moving toward a solution to filling the financial sinkhole created by misuse of funds earmarked for hospital expenses when the hospital was sold many years ago.

The core of the problem, however, wasn't mentioned in the editorial or at the focus group.

In 1986 Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to ensure access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. The five life-threatening situations that fall under this law are chest pain, excessive bleeding, extreme pain, difficulty breathing and active labor.

Hospitals are required to treat patients with any one of these emergencies without asking for insurance or requiring payment up front. Hospital ERs are not required to treat people with non-emergency problems, such as earaches, colds, the flu, and minor scrapes and bruises.

The problem is that they are required to evaluate them according to the law and, in the process of doing this, treat them. Many of them either have no insurance or cannot pay.

A growing number of health care companies in the U.S. are charging non-emergency patients between $100 and $150 (per an Feb. 21, 2012 article in the Washington Post) to be treated in their ERs. Pregnant women, children under the age of 6 and people over 64 are exempt. Nurses in some of the ERs triage calls and refer the non-emergencies to local clinics. According to the article, these hospitals' losses are diminishing.

I'm sure there can be legal ramifications of this, but apparently it has been successful in many states. Maybe those who manage Manatee County need to ditch the charrettes, do their homework and focus on solving problems that we, the people, have no obligation to pay for.

Kathleen Richardson


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