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Hillsborough health tax savings hard to tally

TAMPA — As a Hillsborough County commissioner from 1988 to 1996, Phyllis Busansky helped lead the charge to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for medical care for the county's uninsured.

The program, launched in 1992, has been heralded as a national model, so naturally Busansky uses it as a selling point in her campaign materials.

Busansky said she got her $100-million savings figure from the county's Health and Social Services Department. After several calls and much searching, the department dug up a report that supports Busansky's claim.

Sort of.

The analysis is 11 years old and covers only 1993 through 1997.

Hillsborough HealthCare, which has been tweaked since its creation to prevent budget shortfalls, replaced an old fee-for-service system where the county paid local hospitals for medical treatment provided to poor people without insurance. The current program offers basic health insurance coverage to lower-income residents who can't get it someplace else.

To calculate the savings, the county compared the actual cost of the new program to projected costs of the old program, based on increased prices in medical services and a bump in the number of people covered.

That analysis determined that the program saved taxpayers $107-million as of 1997. But the department has not done any similar evaluation since then, making it difficult to prove or disprove Busansky's claim.

We didn't have all the data available to us that the county used in its report, but PolitiFact tried to estimate the costs of both programs using the rate of medical inflation and county population increases.

The county spent $35-million on indigent health care in 1990. Based on inflation and population growth, the old program, had it continued, would have cost about $78.5-million in 2000, a year when the county actually spent about $75.6-million on Hillsborough HealthCare. That's a savings of $3-million.

In 2007, using the same formula, the old program would have cost $155-million when the county actually spent about $84.3-million with the new plan. That's a savings of $70.7-million.

Busansky states that she "established" the new program. While certainly its champion, her statement glosses over the fact that she was one of six commissioners who voted to enact it.

And today, she cannot prove its total savings. It might have saved more than indicated in Busansky's campaign literature; it might have saved less. Without access to recent data, we can't say — and neither can Busansky — that the $100-million savings is still accurate.

For those reasons, we rate the statement Half True.

The statement

Phyllis Busansky "established affordable health care during two terms as County Commissioner, saving taxpayers over $100 million."

From a campaign flier for Phyllis Busansky, candidate for Hillsborough County supervisor of elections.

The ruling

Busansky accurately quoted a county study, but the data is more than 10 years old and actual savings could be more or less than $100 million.

The statement

Phyllis Busansky "established affordable health care during two terms as County

Commissioner, saving

taxpayers over $100-million."

From a campaign flier for

Phyllis Busansky, candidate for

Hillsborough County supervisor of elections

The ruling

Busansky accurately quoted a county study, but the data is more than 10 years old and actual savings could be more or less than $100-million.


Separating fact from fiction

Nearly a year ago, the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly launched, a fact-checking news Web site focused on the presidential campaign. Now we're expanding those efforts to local government, what we call PolitiFact Florida. Each statement we review will be judged for accuracy and rated on our Truth-O-Meter.

How the

Truth-O-Meter works

When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts. We then decide which of our six rulings should apply:

True – The statement is accurate and there's nothing significant missing.

Mostly True – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

Half True – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Barely True – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

False – The statement is not accurate.

Pants On Fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

How we choose

the facts to check

First, we only check things that can be verified. We can't verify an opinion like "taxes are too high." But we can confirm factual statements such as, "the tax burden is up 20 percent since last year."

We choose items that pique our curiosity or look questionable. We welcome suggestions about facts we should check. Send them to

How do you say that?

PolitiFact (pronounced puh-lit'-eh-fact)

Hillsborough health tax savings hard to tally 07/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 5:41pm]
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