|EDINBURG, December 22 - The future success of healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley will come through increased collaboration between local government, private hospitals, the UT System and the new UT-Rio Grande Valley.
This is the view of Hidalgo County’s chief administrative officer for health and human services, Eddie Olivarez.
“There is no question that the success of our medical industry in South Texas in the future is going to be through the collaboration of our university academic world, our private hospitals and our local government. Those three major participants are going to be the foundation for our future healthcare system here in Hidalgo County and all of South Texas,” Olivarez told the Guardian.
That foundation, Olivarez said, was “fortified” by actions taken by Hidalgo county commissioners on Friday. Acting as the Hidalgo County Health Funding District, the commissioners approved the rate at which nine hospitals in Hidalgo County pay into a provider participation fund in fiscal year 2014. The fund, set at 3.5 percent of each hospital’s total revenue, helps draw down matching funds from the federal government under the 1115 Medicaid Waiver program. Olivarez said over $44.6 million will be received from the nine hospitals. The money will help draw down $111 million from the federal government. These funds, Olivarez said, will help pay for the uncompensated care provided to indigent patients by the nine hospitals, as well as for the development of new healthcare programs at local community clinics and new residency programs at the hospitals.
In total, 29 new programs will be established with the funds, Olivarez said, once permission has been granted for the programs by the Health and Human Services Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The nine participating hospitals are Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Knapp Medical Center, Mission Regional Hospital, Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Cornerstone Regional Medical Center, LifeCare Hospitals of South Texas, Weslaco Rehab Hospital, and Solara Hospital McAllen LP.
Doctors Hospital at Renaissance will contribute $14.7 million to the local provider fund, Knapp Medical Center will contribute $4.5 million, Mission Regional Medical Center, $4 million, Rio Grande Regional Hospital, $6.3 million, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, $12.6 million, Cornerstone Regional Hospital, $364,203.64, LifeCare Hospitals of South Texas, $971,019.52, Weslaco Rehab Hospital, $290,411.60, and Solara Hospital McAllen LP, $826,895.04.
“The local provider fund makes it possible for Hidalgo County to participate in the state’s 1115 waiver program. Without it our county would be at risk of losing over $800 million in funding,” said Israel Rocha, governmental affairs officer at Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance.
“So, with the actions of the Hidalgo County Health Funding District, we are able to preserve a critical funding opportunity for Hidalgo County and the residents and we thank the county for working with the hospitals and the local community to establish a local provider fund.”
Rocha said particular praise should go to the Valley legislative delegation, led by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, and state Rep. Bobby Guerra, for passing Senate Bill 1623. This bill allowed the local provider fund to be established. “Without it we would have been at an incredible loss. This funding is designed to help those that need the most healthcare and we are happy that this is an opportunity that will make it possible for all of us to work together,” Rocha said.
Rocha said $60 million will be used to start four residency programs at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. These will be internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics and surgery. He said other hospitals in the region would also be starting residency programs. “It is going to help establish over 100 residency slots and really help change healthcare opportunities here in South Texas,” Rocha added.
Community clinics like Hope and El Milagro in McAllen will benefit also, said Olivarez. He said a certain constituency within Hidalgo County would benefit, namely those in the so-called “Black Hole.” This is the large segment in the community that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to obtain a subsidy under the Affordable Care Act. “It will allow people who are uninsured or who are under-insured, who do not meet the criteria for the Affordable Care Act to access services. Those who have fallen through the cracks,” Olivarez said.
Like Rocha, Olivarez said Hidalgo County was “maximizing the money” available from the federal government. “It assures that we take all opportunities to maximize all federal monies due us,” he said. And, like Rocha, Olivarez praised the Valley legislative delegation for the passage earlier this year of SB 1623.
“All of this is due to Senator Hinojosa, Senator Lucio, Representative Guerra, and the entire South Texas delegation. If 1623 had not been brought into light, we were subject to lose hundreds of millions of dollars we would not have been able to obtain from a federal match. It would have gone to Dallas or Houston or someplace that did have a local revenue stream,” Olivarez said.
Olivarez said the local provider fund “ties in tremendously” with the establishment of a four-year medical school at UT-RGV. “It is an integrated effort. We have city partners that have contributed, plus the county, and the private hospitals. Together we are working with the UT System, and will be working with UT-Rio Grande Valley, to improve access to healthcare. Our medical industry in South Texas in the future is going to be through these collaborations.”
Other counties that have set up a local provider participation fund through the passage of SB 1623 are Webb and Cameron counties.