Williamson County officials hope to get local hospitals on board with a new funding mechanism that could help cover emergency room costs for uninsured patients and even prevent them from relying on emergency room care in the first place.
At the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, the county took a step toward creating a local provider participation fund, also known as an LPPF. State law allows county Commissioners Courts to administer funds made up of mandatory fees paid by local hospitals. That money can be used to pay for eligible health care projects, including covering the costs of uninsured ER patients, Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said.
“The federal government mandates that anybody who shows up at a hospital emergency department can’t be turned away, whether they have a source of payment or not. That, in of itself, creates a fairly decent size of debt on hospitals,” Long said.
Long said an LPPF could help compensate hospitals to recoup those monetary losses. In an LPPF, grants are matched, Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook said. With the money, the county could also fund programs that help reduce the number of people without insurance checking into the ER. Instead, they could go to clinics for pre-emptive care, which is a more cost-effective option, she said.
“Whether it’s through our taxes or by [rising prices when]going to a hospital, the rest of us pay for indigent care,” Cook said.
Health care consultant Carlos Zaffirini said officials at local area hospitals are “very, very close” to reaching an agreement amongst themselves about a potential LPPF and what it would mean for the hospitals to pay the tax.
There are no county tax dollars in play with an LPPF, Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said. At next week’s Commissioners Court meeting, the commissioners will set the rate at which area hospitals would pay into the fund and hold a public hearing required by state law.