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Pasco, charities scramble for indigent medical aid

Parents and their children wait to be seen by dentists at the Premier Community HealthCare dental facility in Dade City. Pasco County earmarked $30,000 fro the dental clinic, but did not reallocate $350,000 for indigent medical care to allow the agency to tap an additional $800,000 in federal aid. Pasco, Premier and BayCare Health System were working on an agreement to maintain the funding. TIMES file
Published Sep. 18, 2018

NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County contribution to provide medical care for needy people is not part of next year's county budget.

But that doesn't mean uninsured patients will go without seeing a health care provider.

Here's why: The $356,000 the county provided to Premier Community Healthcare Group in the current fiscal year could be replaced in the short term by a county earmark for BayCare Health Systems for mental health services.

If all the details can be worked out, Premier would reimburse BayCare at a later date. It's a convoluted equation, but the desired solution is to treat people in need, using a mix of local and federal money to pay the bills.

"I'm a glass half-full guy,'' said Joe Resnick, CEO of Premier HealthCare. "For what's in the best interest of everybody, we'll work with both parties (Pasco County and BayCare) as best we can to make something happen.''

Contributions from participating local governments are required for Premier to tap federal money for treating uninsured patients in what is known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP .

In the current budget year, which ends Oct. 1, Premier used $356,000 from Pasco plus $150,000 from Hernando County, as the required match to receive an additional $800,000 in federal money.

For the year, Premier treated 725 uninsured patients from Pasco County, with each person making, on average, three to four visits to the agency's clinics. Nobody is turned away for financial reasons, said Resnick. Premier is based in Dade City but provides services in 10 locations in Pasco and Hernando counties.

So why wasn't money included as a line-item in the 2019 Pasco County budget? Essentially because the county received an unexpected bill from Tallahassee — a required $1.4 million additional contribution to Medicaid.

"It hit us hard,'' Commissioner Mike Moore said Tuesday. "We continue to have unfunded mandates.''

During the commission's May 1 budget workshop, County Administrator Dan Biles highlighted Premier's proposed appropriation. It was a late addition to the 2018 budget and required dipping into reserve accounts to cover the expense, he said. During the workshop, commissioners didn't indicate whether they wanted to continue the funding, but they were leery of spending reserves on continuing appropriations.

By a June 26 workshop at Saint Leo University, the $350,000 for Premier was listed last among 44 spending requests from county departments and constitutional officers. Fulfilling all the spending requests again would have required the county to tap into reserves.

Tax Collector Mike Fasano advocated on behalf of Premier last year and helped obtain the appropriation in the 2018 budget. He initially feared the allocation would be lost for 2019.

"I'm pleased they're making the effort,'' said Fasano. "I understand priorities, but we need to insure people have access to health care and this program has been successful.''

Commissioners approved the 2019 county budget Tuesday night. Separately, the county has earmarked more than $30,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to Premier for its dental clinic.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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