BRADENTON -- Manatee County commissioners heard a bold new proposal Thursday for caring for Manatee's needy, which calls for creation of an Indigent Health Care Board to determine how health care funds are spent.
Under the plan unveiled by semiretired Dr. Craig Trigueiro, the advisory board would be comprised of seven members, one appointed by each commissioner, including three from the medical field. No one who receives indigent health care funding would sit on the board.
Health care money would continue to come from ad valorem/property taxes from the general fund until commissioners adopt a different plan, Trigueiro said.
"Our recommendation is for referendum for a one-half cent sales tax, which sunsets in six years and whose spending is determined by the Indigent Health Care Board," Trigueiro said. "The reason we want to it to sunset is that it needs to be evaluated by everyone and we don't believe the public will support a long-term indigent health care tax at this point. After six years, if the program is good, it would go back to the voters for another referendum."
The tax would raise $26 million annually at the current sales tax collection rate, Trigueiro said.
Trigueiro and seven others formed an Indigent Health Care Committee last November to come up with a plan since the lump sum set aside from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital years ago for treating Manatee's needy has now been depleted.
The committee was comprised of Dr. Eric Folkens; retired registered nurse Sara Cohen; Ed Bailey; Adell Eroser of Turning Points; Susie Copeland, president of the Manatee County NAACP; Carol Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida; and Cesar Gomez, past president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
Probstfeld did not vote on the committee because she is also on the board of trustees at Manatee Memorial Hospital, Trigueiro said.
Other major points of Trigueiro's proposal call for The Physicians Fund for private physicians who provide specialty care be increased from $1 million to $2.5 million.
"The payment pool for physicians is too low," Trigueiro said. "The current $1 million ran out this year in April. Specialty outpatient care, other than what is provided by Manatee County Rural Health Services, is difficult to obtain. We believe appropriate specialty outpatient care leads to better outcomes and results in overall health care cost savings."
Trigueiro's proposal calls for no large block grants, which hospitals sometimes receive to care for the indigent.
"There is no audit trail of services in block grants because no insurance claims are filed," Trigueiro said.
Under Trigueiro's plan, health care claims would be filed with a third-party administrator.
"If a patient is seen in the emergency room, a health insurance claim should be filed for payment with the county and a third-party administrator should evaluate it," Trigueiro said. "This would allow an audit trail of the claim."
The proposal drew positive reaction from commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Carol Whitmore, Betsy Benac and Charles Smith, all of whom said they liked elements of "Dr. T's" plan.
"This is the best plan I have heard yet and it's the only plan I have heard yet," Baugh said. "It's a good start. I don't agree with everything but it's been what I have been asking for for a year."
"Thank you Dr. T," Whitmore said. "Some ideas I love. Some ideas, I'm on the fence. I know people have come up with other plans as well. It is good to see there are citizens out there talking about this and taking the politics out of it."
"Dr. T, you have given us something to start with," Smith said.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told the audience of roughly 50 the public will be given a chance to discuss indigent health care plans in August, ahead of September's approval of the 2015-2016 budget.
"We will have as many public comment hearings as we need on health care," Hunzeker said.
In another budget issue, two speakers spoke in favor of Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube's request for 12 more deputies. Former Manatee County deputy Corie Holmes, who ran against District 2 Commissioner Charles Smith in 2014 and has filed to run for the District 1 seat in 2016 as a Republican, said: "Let's give the sheriff's office the tools they need to be successful to make our county much safer."
Sandra Deland, who has lived in Bradenton for 24 years, also spoke in favor of Steube's request for additional deputies in a $110 million budget proposal. "I think what he is asking for his quite reasonable," she said. "Law enforcement is under serious problems with crime and stuff and they are targeted now. Please give Sheriff Steube what he is asking for."
Smith said the commission has to make some tough decisions.
"We know we need strong law enforcement," Smith said.
Benac said the financial challenge can be met.
"The reality is this community continues to grow and continue to have the challenge to find finances to meet all the needs," she said. "This community can solve its problems if we work together. I believe that."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.