MANATEE — The county soon will cover expanded psychiatric and outpatient services for indigent patients, a move that likely will deplete its indigent health-care trust fund even faster.
County commissioners agreed Tuesday to begin reimbursing hospitals and doctors who provide outpatient chemotherapy and intravenous therapy services to qualifying indigent patients. Commissioners also said the county’s indigent-care fund will increase coverage of inpatient psychiatric care from two to three days per year.
Officials estimate the changes will cost the county more than $353,000 annually. At that rate, the trust fund — created from proceeds from the county’s 1984 sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital to a private company — could run out of money up to six months earlier than its projected depletion in 2015.
But the majority of commissioners said the expanded coverage is needed to help uninsured patients and the financially strapped hospitals they are flooding.
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“You can’t let the hospitals keep paying the way they have been,” said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a registered nurse who initially proposed the expanded coverage.
Manatee Memorial Hospital provides an estimated $70 million in indigent care annually, of which only $5.6 million is reimbursed by the county, said Moody Chisholm, the hospital’s chief executive.
“We’re not even asking to cover the (entire) cost, but a little bit more will help,” he said.
But Commissioner Joe McClash had problems with the county expanding indigent coverage, especially for psychiatric care.
He said the county “is being dumped on” by the state, which has cut back funding for mental health services and closed a regional psychiatric hospital in Arcadia several years ago.
“I just think it’s wrong to continuously subsidize what the state has failed to do,” said McClash, the only commissioner who voted against expanding coverage.
Whitmore said the third day of psychiatric care will give doctors more time to stabilize patients, potentially avoiding longer and/or future hospital stays and higher bills for the county.
Commissioners likely will be asked next month to approve amended contracts with Manatee Healthcare System — which operates Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch Regional Medical Center — and Blake Medical Center reflecting the expanded coverage, said Fred Loveland, the county’s community services director.
Commissioners also said Tuesday they want to hold a future work session to discuss what to do after the trust fund is depleted. That meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.