The politics swirling around the issue of compensating Manatee County's medical community for care provided to uninsured and underinsured residents frustrates physicians and other health care providers.
Mischaracterizations and misunderstandings took hold of the debate ahead of last year's election on a half-cent sales tax to solve the funding dilemma -- a vote that failed as sales-tax proponents did not communicate a convincing message.
Thus, Manatee Memorial Hospital created a power-point presentation for Tuesday's Board of County Commissioners meeting to dispel the widespread misconceptions of this important community issue.
Florida counties serve this needy population's medical needs with public funding of some sort, be it a sales tax or property millage. Safety-net hospitals, such as Manatee Memorial, serve the majority of Florida's poor.
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The state and federal governments contribute to this necessary public policy and societal obligation through several funding mechanisms.
But the state and federal governments provide matching grants that depend on local contributions. On Tuesday, Manatee commissioners wisely beat the Sept. 30 deadline by allocating the remaining money in the county's health care fund, $6.9 million.
Had that not occurred, grants raising the total to $12.8 million would not have been available. That would have been an irresponsible loss.
Some Manatee residents want to revisit the demise of the county's health care fund, established with the sale of the then publicly-owned MMH to private interests three decades ago.
The so-called corpus, thought to be a permanent source of funds through investments, could not be sustained with the plunge in the investment returns in recent years.
But the community needs to be looking forward and find a solution. The clock is ticking toward next year's Sept. 30 deadline to leverage local dollars to gain state grants.
Nearby counties all support indigent care with public dollars, Hillsborough and Polk with a half-cent sales tax and Sarasota, Pinellas and Hardee with property taxes.
In 2013, Manatee Healthcare Systems (which includes Lakewood Ranch Medical Center) absorbed a $29 million loss on uncompensated care, which totaled $41.8 million in medical services. MHS received $12.8 million in payments from the state and corpus.
Blake Medical Center, Manatee County Rural Health Services, Manatee Glens, MHS and independent physicians are part of this funding program, with the most going to Manatee Memorial as the county's safety-net hospital.
Reimbursement rates to physicians, hospitals and other medical providers only amount to the low rates mandated by Medicaid and Medicare. All the providers submit monthly reports, and those are audited for independent verification.
There is accountability, to dispel another concern.
The notion that Manatee lacks a so-called health care plan is equally miscast.
This county is blessed with a strong infrastructure today -- with Manatee County Rural Health Services, Manatee Glens, the We Care Manatee group of volunteer doctors, MHS and its sister facility, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, and Blake Medical Center.
Plus, physicians and nurses routinely volunteer at the medical center at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center for the homeless. Both MMH and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine provide staff.
The system could be more efficient, as medical providers acknowledge. Educating the poor about health maintenance and steering them away from expensive emergency room care and into clinics has been a topic of discussion for years.
County commissioners have been debating the projected demise of corpus for years without success. Crunch time is here with only one year left to devise a sound policy for the future.
One more point: The argument that hospitals are for-profit businesses that should not be supported by tax dollars fades under these circumstances.
Hospitals are in a singular position -- since federal law requires medical treatment for patients regardless of their ability to pay. Grocery stores and restaurants are under no legal obligation to provide free food for anyone who walks in their businesses.
Society has a moral obligation to treat the sick.
Should commissioners reject public support for this effort, Manatee would be the only county in Florida that doesn't contribute financially to health care for the poor.
That's a distinction that would damage our economic development and our quality of life.