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EDINBURG, RGV – On a 4-1 vote, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approved the petition for the creation of the Health Care District in Hidalgo County to appear on the county’s general election ballot in November.

Reverend Jerry Frank of St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan introduced the petition to the court. He said the creation of a Hidalgo County Healthcare Services District will help community clinics serve more patients, support the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Medical School, create new jobs in the biotechnology as well as medical fields, support research in diabetes and increase access to specialty care in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I wholeheartedly support this proposition because access to car should not be limited to those who can afford it, but to all who need it. Healthcare is a basic human right,” Frank said.

State Law requires Commissioners Court to hold an election if a petition is signed by 50 registered voters. The first petition had 168 Hidalgo County residential votes. Of these,148 of those were registered voters. County Judge Ramon Garcia said this petition was not passed because it failed to provide the amount of the tax rate requested to be adopted. The second petition set the tax rate at eight cents per $100 of property valuation and it had 144 voters, 124 of which were registered.

The court passed two motions. The first motion, putting the Hidalgo County Health Care District on the November ballot, was unanimously passed. The second motion, providing an eight-cent tax rate, was passed four-to-one with Commissioner Precinct 2, Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu opposing.

“I’m opposed because I believe the clinics deserve some money so I’d love to see some budgets to see how we can benefit the clinics,” Cantu said. “I think that the indigent money needs more than the $5.5 million that we provided here at the court, but I think the medical school is fully funded so that’s why I can’t agree with the eight cents.”

If voters approve a healthcare district for Hidalgo County the tax rate would be eight cents per $100 property valuation. That would generate about $24 million a year. Rev. Frank, who has been involved in discussions about setting up a healthcare district, told the Rio Grande Guardian that 20 percent of the $24 million would go to federally qualified and non-profit clinics that help the poor. He said about 21 percent will go to UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. About eight percent would go on administration and about 51 percent would go to local hospitals and doctors.

Blue and Red

Two sides of the healthcare district attended the court’s meeting to share their opinions. Several people from La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) wore blue and others from Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWLS) wore red. LUPE is an organization that aims to build stronger and healthier communities through civic engagement. And OWLS monitors local city and government operations.

Richard Montesdeoca, chief executive director of Valley City Planning Consultants, supported OWLS efforts and said the possibility of a health care district has nothing to do with free healthcare.

“The ironic thing is that there is an existing free health care program for indigents right now,” Montesdeoca said. “You can go to Hidalgo County health care, they will certify you as being indigent and you can receive healthcare in any one of the hospitals in Hidalgo County. That particular program will die if this is passed. For example, if I want to build a road, I get taxed and they build a road and I get access to the road. In this case, I’m going to get taxed for healthcare and I’m not going to get free healthcare. This is what the people are missing. They are being sold a package that does not exist.”

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, said she and her colleagues in the group attended to get the court to accept the petition of a healthcare district in Hidalgo County.

“What we were here for was accomplished,” Valdez-Cox said. “But now, the hard work remains. If [the creation of a health care district in Hidalgo County] is going to be on the ballot in November, that means we have to get a lot of people out to vote. That’s the hardest part–getting people to understand what this is about, how it will benefit and to get out to vote.”

A similar ballot measure, to set up a hospital district, failed narrowly when put to the voters of Hidalgo County in November, 2014.

Editor’s Note: Photos in the slideshow were taken by Ena Capucion/Rio Grande Guardian.