County’s Indigent Plan Dilemma

It’s no secret that this county’s indigent health care program – now nearing $100 million annually — continues to grow apace. As does a deficit, which reached $6 million last year. Service-trimming scenarios are in the offing, as is a long-term plan to restructure the Hillsborough HealthCare Plan, which is funded by a half-cent sales tax.

So, good for Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Jim Norman for trying to find ways to save money without hurting critical services to those most deserving. But good intentions aren’t always enough.

First, he wanted to ban smokers from eligibility; after all, they cost the plan more than non-smokers do. Unfortunately the criteria, which are set by the state, are based solely on residence and financial wherewithal. Norman, however, seems inclined to push for a mandatory smoking cessation program.

Call it: Helping those who help themselves. How radical.

Then there is Norman’s plan – recently approved by the commission — to deny benefits to anyone convicted of three serious crimes.

Would that it were a deterrent to crime, which really taxes society. More to the point, however, it could save the county a reported $4 million annually. And it’s arguably a fairer, fiscal fix than eliminating, say, eye exams, dental work and catastrophic care, which commissioners did on a temporary basis earlier in the year.

The big down side to Tampa Triage: “Three strikes and you’re out of our indigent health care plan” is ultimately more feel good than real good. In reality, it becomes “Three strikes and your next at-bat is at TGH’s emergency room.” Some societal saving.

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