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Central Health proposes raising taxes to fund budget

Friday, August 28, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Central Health has been a critical resource for many during the course of the pandemic; now, the public health authority is looking to accomplish more for its patients in the upcoming year.

To provide additional health care options for a larger number of Travis County residents, Mike Geeslin, the president of Central Health, told county commissioners on Aug. 25 that the health authority is proposing a $367.2 million budget. That’s a $76.5 million increase over last year and will result in the average home in Travis County paying 6.92 percent or $25.37 more on their property taxes next year. Ninety-six percent of Central Health’s budget is dedicated to health care delivery while the remaining 4 percent covers administration expenses.

Travis County taxpayers fund health care for more than 1 in 8 county residents. Many of those residents live in the eastern reaches of the county, and Geeslin told commissioners that the public health authority is responding to the needs of its target demographic by pushing more of its resources eastward.

One major effort that was approved by the Commissioners Court Tuesday was the execution of a contract to purchase a 2.5-acre parcel just east of State Highway 130 on Elroy Road for a purchase price of $801,000. Funding for the purchase is part of Central Health’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

Central Health will develop the land into a health care clinic to provide primary care, preventive care, vaccines, labs, disease management and pharmacy services, something Commissioner Margaret Gómez has long pushed for.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion pushed the subject of providing care to residents with limited access to resources. “I don’t worry about the resources that are available for wealthy people with insurance. What I worry most about is the people that fall within the 200 percent of the federal poverty lines,” he said.

Geeslin said that Central Health reached out to stakeholders during the budget development process to better understand where its system of care was falling short. He said there was 33 percent more participation in the process this year, with 399 community members voicing their input. Thirty-eight percent of the participants live in Central Health’s priority areas. According to the data collected, those served by Central Health’s systems hope to prioritize the building of health care facilities in underserved areas of the county as well as improve the Covid-19 pandemic response.

These priority areas align with Central Health’s stated strategic priorities, Geeslin pointed out. Two of those primary considerations are improving access to care and enhancing clinical programming. “We are building out that system and being very deliberate in making certain that we are putting pieces in place through an equity lens,” he said. In the budget, $69.8 million is allocated to primary and specialty care services – that’s $9.8 million more than last year.

In addition to augmenting funding for health care services, Central Health is increasing its focus on communicating in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways, following its experience triaging patients during the pandemic.

Connecting and serving patients according to their needs is something that should be a top priority for health care providers across the county, according to Geeslin. “I cannot emphasize enough the value of investing in solid community health and public health,” he said.

Central Health did not spend all of its hospital services or specialty care service budget in 2020, leaving it with $66.4 million more in its reserves than last year. Those funds are not yet allocated to specific programming but will be used on an as-needed basis.

The public will have the chance to attend a hearing on the proposed budget on Sept. 9 before it is put before the commissioners for an adoption vote on Sept. 29.

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