Manatee County Commission balks at health care summit

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 18, 2014 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission decided Tuesday against organizing a formal health care summit in August.

The board, attempting to find a way to finance health care for the poor once money runs out of a designated fund next year, disagreed about the value of such a summit.

The summit was proposed by Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who said she hoped a meeting led by an independent moderator could work with local health care organizations to come up with a solution.

"We need to figure out where we're going," she said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac said she understood why voters last summer defeated a half-cent sales tax increase that would have paid for health care for the poor: They don't want local government to raise taxes.

But she added: "I cannot believe this community is not going to do anything on this issue .... does that really mean we're not going to do anything?"

Commissioner Michael Gallen said: "I'm not sure yet if we have all the tools to put together the summit."

Philip Brown III, president of the United Way of Manatee County, offered to try to "engage our community around the health care issue."

Retiree Bob Goodman, who in the 1990s helped the county refashion its employee health care system, said: "As much as you would like to have a summit, they don't work. You

have to bring in a professional" to accomplish anything.

Sara Cohen told commissioners the county doesn't need to spend more money on health care plans.

"The residents said 'no' because they didn't want their taxes increased," she said. "Raising taxes hurts the middle class and the poor."

At first, some commissioners seemed to embrace the idea of a summit, but fissures erupted among them as discussion continued.

"We're like a ship without a captain here," said Commissioner John Chappie. "The big problem is we have a credibility gap right now. It's like a poison pill is thrown into any solution that comes through."

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino suggested hospital chiefs ought to be better able to come up with a plan to care for the poor, and bring it to the commission.

"Their consortium needs to come to us with a plan," she said.

Proceeds from the sale of the county's Manatee Memorial Hospital were invested into a dedicated fund and paid for care for the poor for decades, but the money is running out next year, officials have said.

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

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