Every county in the state must pay for uncompensated indigent healthcare costs from the taxes collected from its residents. Federal law requires this.

Some counties like Hidalgo have healthcare departments such as Hidalgo County’s Health and Human Services Department to meet these needs, but many counties in Texas are much smarter and pay for indigent care through a hospital or healthcare district so they can get millions of extra dollars in federal funds. Counties like San Antonio’s Bexar County Hospital District, Travis County’s Health Care District, or Dallas County Hospital District do just that.

Last week, HB 1596 overwhelmingly passed both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate. This taxpayer protection healthcare district bill was authored by myself and the four other Hidalgo County State Representatives and sponsored in the Senate by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Senator Lucio.

HB 1596 seeks to change what is already in statute to include provisions that will provide the taxpayers in our county the protections they deserve if a healthcare district is created in the future with voter approval. If HB 1596 was not filed and passed, then the county would be tied to the existing law that does not lower the tax rate cap to 25 cents and does not direct the county to lower the current tax rate for Hidalgo County residents once the county would no longer be responsible for paying the bill for indigent care. This would ensure that voters are not being double taxed.

So if the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court decides sometime in the future to put the health care district on the ballot, then HB 1596 will make sure the voters would receive the benefit of these protections. The Upper Valley delegation, along with Senator Hinojosa, wanted to ensure our taxpayers were protected by not having to pay indigent care taxes twice but only what is required by federal law.

Last session, the entire valley delegation passed historic legislation that established the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and created the first ever medical school in South Texas. This tremendous opportunity will allow us to educate our kids in our community as well as attract students from across the country, and be a tremendous economic boost.

A healthcare district would no doubt compliment the medical school and bring millions of extra dollars into our own county. Simply put, it would relieve the county of its mandated obligation to pay for healthcare for our indigent population. By doing so, it would shift the burden to the healthcare district and draw down federal dollars to offset the cost of care for both uninsured and insured residents. Whatever tax dollars the county is currently collecting for indigent care would be offset with this legislation if the healthcare district is passed sometime in the future by the voters of Hidalgo County. HB 1596 assures the taxpayers of Hidalgo County will not be double taxed for federally required indigent care.

This is a win-win situation for our taxpayers of Hidalgo County.