MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission OK'd a one-year, stop-gap measure Tuesday providing $7.2 million in agreements with local health care providers to aid the needy.
With the remnants of the county's diminishing health care trust fund and an infusion from its general fund, commissioners agreed to provide care to Medicaid, uninsured and underinsured patients from July 1 through Sept. 30, 2015.
The agreements are partly designed to reap state and federal matching money available to all counties in Florida, officials said.
For-profit Manatee Health Systems, which includes Manatee Memorial Hospital and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, will receive $4.7 million; for-profit Blake Medical Center, $670,000; and nonprofit Manatee Rural Health Services, $794,170.
About $1 million will pay for doctors' care.
Commissioner Betsy Benac noted it is the board's obligation to provide such medical care, saying all commissioners have discussed how to solve a difficult problem.
"We want to continue to address these issues," she said.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said she expected continued work ahead to find a longer-term solution since it was "just too expensive" to keep running hospital emergency rooms such as primary care clinics.
"We only have certain options to do in the future, and some of them aren't pretty: Raise taxes, ask for another sales tax that would be voted in by the taxpayers, take it from other places in the budget -- property values I believe will increase and that will give us more money, borrow it or don't fund it," she said. "We've got to
be wise, be prudent and be transparent."
Commissioner Larry Bustle took issue with critics who claim county officials mismanaged the trust fund, which did well for decades on invested proceeds from the 1984 sale of then-publicly owned Manatee Memorial Hospital.
"(The board) started using the corpus, and for over 30 years this county has not had to use sales tax or property tax to pay for the medically uninsured and medically indigent health care, so that's a good thing, right?" Bustle said.
The commission decided to boost eligibility limits from 138 percent of the federal poverty guidelines to 200 percent on grounds it would be paying a set amount to providers, and not on a per-patient basis.
"It opens the pool for more people to be served for the same amount of money," said Bustle.
2014 federal poverty guidelines set the annual income limit for a family of four at $23,850; 200 percent of the guidelines is $47,700 and 138 percent is $32,913.
After the meeting, Rural Health Services chief Walter "Mickey" Presha Sr. said: "I think the board did the correct thing. This is a complex problem."
In other action:
The board cleared the way for a Formula 2-class boat race along the Manatee River in February by passing an ordinance providing an exemption for U.S. Coast Guard-permitted boat races, since the previous laws did not include language for such permitting.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.