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County pursues funding for indigent healthcare

Hidalgo-County-SealHospitals in Hidalgo County may be receiving up to $25.2 million in Medicaid reimbursements this year, which has historically been left on the table. The hospitals are paying an assessment of $10.5 million through the newly created County Healthcare Funding District to qualify for the federal funding, which will reimburse that amount plus a $1.40 or greater match for each dollar paid in.

The Healthcare Funding District is expected to capture up to $200 million over the next two and one-half years in federal funding for uncompensated indigent health care in the county.

Legislation passed last month in the Texas legislature authorized the formation of Healthcare Funding Districts in Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb counties. Senate Bill 1623, authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, allows the county to establish an assessment fee on local hospitals. That fee is put into a Local Provider Fund and used for local payments required to draw down federal matching dollars for uncompensated indigent healthcare services.

At the time the legislation was introduced, Senator Hinojosa said, "S.B. 1623 is a unique and innovative way of coming up with a structure that does not cost taxpayers any money. This legislation is critical for Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb counties who do not have a public hospital system in their communities and yet they serve the largest uninsured population in the United States. In Hidalgo County alone, almost 40 percent of residents are uninsured, compared to 24 percent in Texas."

Last week, county commissioners authorized formation of a Healthcare Funding District, which can establish assessments on all hospitals operating in the county to create a source of matching funds to qualify for federal funding for uncompensated indigent healthcare services.

Hidalgo County Health Department Director Eduardo Olivarez and the local hospitals had planned to submit $6.1 million to the state this week to qualify for the matching federal dollars. However, Olivarez told the Commissioners’ Court Tuesday morning that state officials said the hospitals could qualify for even more reimbursements for indigent care if they would remit $10.5 million to the state by July 31.

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court took action Tuesday approving a mandatory assessment of 0.8255 percent of the net patient revenues of each of the hospitals in the county. This assessment formula produces the $10.5 million required to draw down the matching funds.

Carlos Zaffirini Jr., counsel for the local hospitals said, “The request of the hospitals is that the Healthcare Funding District utilize the revenue in the Local Provider Participation Fund to help strengthen the safety-net by helping them access federal support via the Texas Transformation & Quality Improvement Medicaid Waiver.”

Mission Regional Medical Center CEO Javier Iruegas later explained that funds are allocated each year for South Texas to reimburse hospitals for a portion of their costs for uncompensated Medicaid services and indigent care, but most of those federal matching funds were going unclaimed because the hospitals in South Texas did not have qualifying monies to pay the local match. Since South Texas did not utilize the allocated funds, those funds were being reallocated to other areas of the state with public hospital systems, such as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

“It’s allocated to us because we have a high level of uncompensated care. If we couldn’t come up with that first dollar of IGT (Inter-governmental Transfers) … we don’t get the match,” said Tim McVey, CFO for Mission Regional Medical Center.

Zaffirini said, “Most of the hospitals in the large urban areas (of Texas) are receiving 100 percent of the funding available to them. Unfortunately, due to the lack of infrastructure and lack of a tax base, all along the (South Texas) border region, we were claiming only 13 percent of the money. So we had to identify a way, via the legislature, to help create a mechanism that would allow for us to get equal to those other communities.”

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost a great deal of money along the border until this opportunity has presented itself,” he added.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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