Wednesday, July 17, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Central Health seeks $34 million more for FY2014

Thanks in part to a planned University of Texas medical school and teaching hospital, Travis County Central Health officials say they will need nearly $34 million more in FY2014 than was allotted in their FY2013 budget. The money would come from a tax increase approved in November 2012.

In the first of what will be three presentations before the Travis County Commissioners Court, Central Health officials Tuesday began to clarify their budget needs. Commissioners also recognized the agency’s accomplishments and growth over the last five years, and discussed how the creation of a separate but connected non-profit entity called the Community Care Collaborative will better help deliver health care to Travis County tax payers.

Central Health, which owns University Medical Center Brackenridge, is made up of a network of health care services that focus on providing health care to the area’s low income, underinsured, and uninsured community. At $176.2 million, Central Health’s proposed FY2014 budget is partly the result of Travis County voters approving a 5-cent tax rate increase which will pay for a the new University of Texas medical school and a teaching hospital.

As In Fact Daily reported in November 2012, the vote resulted in a more than 60 percent hike in the Central Health portion of Travis County taxpayers’ bills. That translates to a rough increase of $100 more in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home and a $55 million increase in funds for Central Health. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 7, 2012.)

On Tuesday, Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis expressed concern over that nickel increase and the management of what will be a much heftier budget. Davis questioned Central Health officials at length about how that extra revenue would be distributed, and how much of it would ultimately go toward helping Travis County’s poor.

“I’m having some concerns, especially when I do not know how this nickel will be broken up,” Davis said. “In the election, one of the main things said was we want to make sure the indigent get good, quality health care. Are the poor persons really going to get quality health care?”

Larry Wallace, Central Health Interim CEO, said the increase would help ensure that care is appropriately managed. “It’s more than just going to see the doctor,” he said. “It’s about preventive care, wellness and a different service model that includes an entire group of people.” The new model will be delivered through the Collaborative, a Central Health-Seton public-private partnership expected to manage care for 50,000 patients through 14 community-based projects as part of a Medicaid Transformation Waiver.

Central Health Chief Financial Officer Jeff Knodel said the tax increase allows the organization to leverage the funding the group receives in order to maximize the services it can provide to the community. Knodel said the extra money will also be used to “improve the delivery infrastructure of health care for our community, and improvements around specialty care.”

After extended discussion about the tax revenue increase, Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty questioned what impact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act  – known most everywhere as Obamacare – would have on Central Health spending.

“Hopefully with people getting insured I would think they would utilize this…Is that all factored in?” Daugherty asked.

“It will be going forward,” Wallace said. “The rules are still being clearly defined. We’re looking at our financial model to see where we’re going to have opportunities to capitalize on those programs. Clearly we see it having an impact on our budget process.”

Central Health officials will return to Commissioners Court on August 21st to formally present their preliminary budget. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for August 29 and Sept. 4. The court is expected to approve the budget by Sept. 24.

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