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  1. Pasco

Pasco County is cold to request for indigent medical aid

Parents and their children wait to be seen by dentists at the Premier Community HealthCare dental facility in Dade City. TIMES (2017)
Parents and their children wait to be seen by dentists at the Premier Community HealthCare dental facility in Dade City. TIMES (2017)
Published Jun. 4, 2019

DADE CITY — A nonprofit medical clinic wants to turn $350,000 from Pasco County into $900,000 worth of health services for the needy.

Pasco's response? Go ask the hospitals for help.

The scene played out Tuesday morning when Premier Community HealthCare Group asked commissioners for $350,000 in the upcoming county budget. The local government dollars allow Premier to tap an additional $556,000 from the federal government in what is known as the Low-Income Pool. Money from the private sector does not qualify for the federal match.

Hernando County contributed $150,000 to Premier in its current budget. Pasco provided the assistance two years ago by dipping into a reserve account. It failed to do so last year after receiving an unexpected bill from Tallahassee — an additional $1.4 million contribution to Medicaid, the government health insurance program for very low-income people.

County Administrator Dan Biles said Tuesday that tab again is increasing by $400,000, bringing Pasco's total Medicaid payment to nearly $7.4 million in the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

Premier provides dental, family, women's and mental health care. It operates 10 locations in Pasco and Hernando counties, and its patient load has doubled over the past eight years to more than 34,000. In Pasco, 53 percent of its patients are below the federal poverty level. Eighty percent of the patients are uninsured or on Medicaid. Most of the rest are on Medicare or private-payers.

Commissioners were not unsympathetic to the Premier cause, but were reluctant to approve the budget request in its entirety. They made no final decision. Commissioners Mike Moore and Jack Mariano advocated for Premier to seek assistance from the area's hospitals. The cost savings attributed to Premier keeping indigent patients from repeated emergency room visits is an asset to emphasize, Moore said.

Premier said it has working relationships with the hospitals, but only BayCare Health Systems provides significant financial help with office space, $50,000 worth of diagnostics and laboratory services and $80,000 for a health coach to work with people with chronic illnesses.

Mariano said he was disappointed that HCA Bayonet Point Regional Medical Center wasn't more active.

"We know this is a big challenge,'' Kurt Conover, HCA Bayonet Point's spokesman, said later. "We would like to have more discussions on what it is they need.''

In the past, HCA has pointed to its property tax payments as a significant public contribution.

Nonprofit hospitals run by BayCare and AdventHealth are tax-exempt. But, combined, HCA's hospitals in Bayonet Point and Trinity paid nearly $900,000 in 2018 property taxes to the county's general fund, as well as $1 million more to the Pasco School District, county fire district and other local taxing authorities.

Without the county's help to obtain the federal match, or an equivalent private-sector contribution, Premier said it would not be able to expand services to meet a growing case load.

"What do we limit down the road?'' CEO Joey Resnick asked outside the meeting.

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

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