Indigent healthcare eligibility re-evaluated

(As Reported By Weatherford Democrat)

By CHRISTIN COYNE

The Parker County Hospital District board of directors discussed Thursday the possibility of changing the guidelines for medical assistance program eligibility.

The district currently spends about $1 million to cover some medical costs for about 400 indigent patients who have major health issues, such as cancer or heart issues, board members were told.

Currently, to qualify as indigent for the district’s medical assistance program, those served must be at or below the 200 percent federal poverty guidelines.

That’s a guideline that the district can at look lowering, which would make it more difficult to qualify for the district’s healthcare assistance program, district attorney Brian Jackson told the board.

However, the district cannot raise the threshold due to the contract with the hospital operator, Community Health Systems, which also provides indigent care to patients at the hospital at no charge to the district, according to Jackson.

Some hospital districts set their guidelines at the state-allowed minimum – 21 percent of the federal poverty level. Most other hospital districts set the guidelines between 50 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty level, Jackson said, adding that Parker County’s indigent qualification threshold is one of the highest in the state.

The number the district is serving has also approximately tripled in the last six years, according to Jackson.

Each year, the poverty levels go up, as well, Tyna Pendergrass, the medical assistance program coordinator, said.

As the numbers go up, that could affect the district’s budget, Young told boardmembers.

Young told the board he doesn’t want the negative publicity that could come with lowering the level to 50 percent but recommended staff get more information and come back to the board with figures about lowering the guidelines to 150 percent.

Jackson said he was not advocating any current patients be removed from the program and added that if the board did decide to lower the number, they could not go back up to the current threshold.

Board member Eric Floyd, who said he was against changing the threshold, said he understood that Community Health Systems had agreed to provide primary physician care for indigents for five years, as well, after the district gave CHS a donation in excess of $7 million dollar last year.

Young said they did not sign any legal agreement regarding that issue.

Jackson said he remembered a representative of CHS talking about helping the district with indigent care but would have to check his notes about the details of what was said between the district and CHS.

Young told the Democrat Friday that they checked notes from last summer after the Thursday board meeting and found that Floyd was correct about CHS offering to provide assistance with indigent patients who use the hospital.

The CHS representative who spoke to the board also remembered the statements and said they’ve been waiting to hear from the district, Young said, adding that they have scheduled a meeting thisweek between CHS and the district to talk about it.