MANATEE — Manatee County commissioners Thursday voted 5-2 to consider an ordinance calling for a referendum asking voters to OK a half-cent sales tax increase to finance healthcare for the indigent.
After noting that the county’s fund to provide healthcare for the poor will run out in 2015, Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon told the commission that it’s unclear what will happen with the federal Affordable Care Act, but it’s clear that in 2015 the county will need a new way to provide health care funding for the poor.
Allowing people to vote on whether to institute a half-cent sales tax increase “would change the face of this community,” she told the commission.
Several commissioners said they were skeptical of the proposal because it did not include a detailed plan to solve a myriad set of problems that the uninsured and the underinsured bring to local medical facilities.
Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said, “Who’s going to do this, and who’s going to administer it?”
People will still be going to the expensive hospital emergency rooms for basic care, “no matter whether we pass a referendum or not,” Bustle said. He asked for a more formal plan of action that would details how the money would be spent.
But in the end, he voted in favor of considering the ordinance at the commission’s March 12 meeting. Others in favor were commissioners John Chappie, Robin DiSabatino, Michael Gallen and Carol Whitmore.
Voting against the idea were commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Betsy Benac.
“It seems like poor timing to me,” said Benac, noting that no one really knows how the massive federal reform of the U.S. healthcare system will affect Manatee County.
Most provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, a reform of the U.S. healthcare system designed to insure 37 million Americans now without coverage, are set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.