Manatee County struggles with loss of health care funding

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- "It’s such a wide ranging issue and it impacts so many people," says Manatee County information manager Nick Azzara, talking about the roughly $25 million the county pays to fund community health care. "We are hoping to get as much input as possible." 

For the last 30 years, much of that money has come out of the proceeds from the sale of the county's hospital. But those funds are set to run out after the 2015 budget year, leaving behind the controversial question of what to do about funding community health care costs. Last year the county proposed a half-cent sales tax to cover the expense but voters said no. Azzara says the current budget doesn't include property tax increase.

"The voters had no appetite for a half-cent sales tax for health care the county administrators recommended budget recommends,” says Azzara, “No tax property increase [either], so there’s that great unknown: do you want to continue funding health care to the tune of $24 million in Manatee County? The board will be faced with that decision."

The cost currently includes the state-mandated Medicaid match, health care for those in jail, and hospital reimbursement for care to the uninsured. There are also millions of dollars in elected costs to fund other indigent health care programs.

Adell Erozer is the director of the free clinic Turning Point, which received a roughly $60,000 county grant this year. She says programs like hers will be forced to fend for themselves without county funding.

"I’m afraid of what our community will become if we don’t have some way to take care of these people who need health care," Erozer says.

Turning Point saw about 10,000 people last year using the limited funds from the county. If community health care funding is cut, organizations that get even more funding assistant than Turning Point may be forced to close their doors -- resulting in an even greater need.

"It’s a big concern to me here because we have a free clinic that helps people who don’t have access to health care the way it is, and we are overwhelmed with people who have a huge need for health care access but can’t get it," Erozer says.