Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Central Health wants $56 more a year from you, commissioners reject the services

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Central Health Board of Managers will re-examine its finances in a special meeting Monday after Travis County commissioners pushed back on their proposed FY24 budget of more than $744 million.

The budget is broken down as follows:

  • Nearly $300 million for health care
  • Nearly $30 million for administration
  • $35 million for an agreement with the University of Texas to provide services at Dell Seton
  • And more than $379 million for contingency reserves

That last point was one of the reasons Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea pushed back the proposed budget on Tuesday in what she called a “rigorous conversation” with Central Health staff.

“They put twice as much money into their contingency reserve as they report spending on direct health services,” Shea said. “And their main mission is health care for the poor.”

Central Health officials say the creation of reserves is part of a strategic effort to build a health system that can meet the needs of the growing number of patients every year. Central Health is embarking on a “seven-year ramp-up phase” of its action plan, which includes 150 new projects to meet demand.

“We have a very definitive plan that has been approved by the board and we continue to update it to the Commissioner’s Court and the public,” said Ted Burton, Central Health’s chief communications officer. He continued: “And even if we expand our services and open more clinics, this reserve will fall dramatically by 2030. And then our reserves essentially reach our emergency reserve threshold, which we cannot fall below.”

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County commissioners also expressed a desire for Central Health to pay for the care of people in the Travis County Jail – which Commissioner Shea said can add up to $22 million to $25 million a year – and to put more money into mental health diversion services, what has already happened is the focus for the district.

“Prison is not the best place for someone whose main problem is that their mental illness is either undiagnosed or not adequately treated. That’s why we want Central Health to help more with that,” Shea said.

This will take into account the discussions that the Central Health Board of Managers will have at its emergency meeting on Monday.

“I can’t predict what the board will do. “I know they will take Commissioners Court’s input and questions very seriously and then consider whether and how we can make changes to our proposed budget,” Burton said.

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How much will it cost you?

If approved, the tax rate will be 0.100692 per $100 valuation. It costs someone who owns an average-value home an additional $56 per year.

If county commissioners decide not to approve the new tax rate, a “no new revenue” rate will go into effect. The Central Health Authority will examine on Monday how quickly it could be brought to an emergency reserve level.

“I don’t think any of us want to compromise their ability to provide more health care to the poor, but we do want them to do more of it,” Shea said.

The full budget can be found here.

What is Central Health?

Central Health is the public health district in Travis County that serves low-income and uninsured people. Voters approved the creation of the taxable district in 2004.

People who make 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for health insurance through Central Health. That’s about $60,000 per year for a family of four and $29,161 for an individual.

State law requires Travis County commissioners to approve Central Health’s budget and the tax rate it gives to voters each year. She said that ultimately the commissioners did not have the option to make changes to the budget, only to ask the Central Board of Health to make those changes or risk non-approval.

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“It’s like trying to knit with potholders because we only have approval up or down,” Shea said.

Central Health’s fiscal year begins October 1.

Performance evaluation

Earlier this year, Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to hire a third-party company to conduct a performance audit of Central Health. KXAN previously reported that the audit would cost the health district $845,200.

“It is critical that public entities like Central Health, even the county and city, receive a qualified outside perspective to ensure they continually improve, grow and thrive to meet the needs of the people they serve “Serve,” Central Health President Mike Geeslin said at the time.

Central Health must undergo a performance review that will cost more than $845,000

A 2018 review of Central Health showed room for improvement, including the need for a comprehensive analysis of the gaps in the health system’s safety net. Central Health said it has implemented many of the changes revealed in this review.

Nation World News Desk
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