PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

July 31, 2013

County to plan next week for indigent care

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — After receiving a $6 million bill from local hospitals for indigent health care, Jefferson County will hold a workshop next week to determine what action to take.

The county is required by law to provide health care for people who are at or below 21 percent of the federal income poverty guidelines, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said. The county pays approximately $3.6 million each year into an upper payment limits program for indigent health care patients who require specialized treatment.

“That money goes into a pot, and then the local hospitals draw off that pot to pay for indigent health care,” Branick said.

Branick said that the reason for the upsurge in indigent health care is multifaceted. In addition to a larger number of people entering the system, medical costs are also on the upswing.

“When I was a little boy growing up in Port Arthur, you had a tongue depressor and X-ray machine and penicillin — that was it,” Branick said. “Medical technology and science have advanced so much that the research and development that goes into developing these procedures and treatments is high dollar.”

At the budget hearing for Health and Welfare I and II held Tuesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Precinct 4 Commissioner Everette “Bo” Alfred remembered the contractual arrangement Jefferson County held with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston prior to Hurricane Ike. The hospital has recovered from the storm’s damages, but their asking price is a bit steep, Branick said.

“Our requirement for providing indigent health care is up to a maximum of $30,000 per patient per year, and UTMB wanted us to agree to a maximum of $60,000,” Branick said. “We said, ‘No thank you.’”

The county has been using local hospitals, and in some case, Houston hospitals.

At the hearing, Commissioner Alfred and Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Shane Sinegal also mentioned security at the Health and Welfare II building, located next to the city hall on Fourth Street. Precinct 3 was allotted $2.3 million for construction of a new building, but in the remaining 18 months before it is expected to be completed, security is an issue.

“The adult probation facility is right next to it, and it’s mostly ladies that work there,” Sinegal said. “Sometimes the men come in agitated because of drugs — they’ve never attacked anyone except verbally, but we wanted to make the court aware of it.”

Sinegal suggested panic buttons or more cameras, but stressed that he didn’t want to spend more than $10,000.

Branick said that requests for salary increases and reclassification will not be considered until after the effected tax rate is final. In the meantime, he is keeping a close eye on all the expenses. The county currently has more than $40 million in reserves.

“We've got healthy reserves,” Branick said. “But that's still no reason to waste money.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA