Williamson Co. taxpayers could see savings in paying for indigent health care

FILE - Hospital bed. (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Hospital bed. (KXAN File Photo)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Hospital visits add up quickly — especially without health insurance. Currently, taxpayers in Williamson County contribute to a fund that pays for people who can’t afford to pay their hospital bills.

“We’re trying to address an ever-growing health care cost issue,” explains Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey.

That is why the county has approved a Local Provider Participation Fund, or LPPF. If local hospitals agree to the plan, providers would contribute up to 6 percent of their net revenue from patients into this fund. Federal agencies would then match funds, giving hospitals more money to recoup costs from unpaid bills.

Under a separate plan called Uncompensated Care, or UC, Williamson County pays $5.4 million a year through property taxes to help treat people with no health coverage. By creating a LPPF, taxpayers could see a savings of $1 million per year.

“My goal would be that we wouldn’t have to raise the amount of tax dollars used for this issue right away, we would be able to reduce it immediately,” explains Covey.

State statute says health care providers cannot increase costs to patients to make up for the money they will contribute to the LPPF. However, if an LPPF weren’t created, hospitals could raise their rates on insured patients to pay for the uninsured.

“I think patients and taxpayers benefit when hospitals are able to offset their uncompensated care costs. The pressure to increase costs go down in that situation,” explains Carlos Zafarini, a consultant with Adelanto Healthcare Ventures who is representing several local hospitals.

Williamson County Commissioners will vote on the tax rate hospitals will have to pay into the fund on Tuesday. They will also hold a public hearing for people to comment on the new plan.

State legislators just added Williamson County as one of the counties allowed to create a LPPF this past session. In 2013, the legislature passed legislation that granted certain counties in South Texas the option to create LPPFs.

In Travis County, a similar program is already in place for low-income residents. It was originally set up in 2004, under Travis County Hospital District. In 2012, voters approved a tax increase for Central Health, which also helped pay for the Dell Medical School. Central Health brings in more than $181 million each year — almost all of it going to health care for low-income and uninsured Travis County residents.

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