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MCALLEN, RGV – It was as though the Texas House District 36 Democratic Party primary was still going on.

Defeated challenger Abraham Padron was in the audience at a McAllen Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee meeting, jabbing away at state Rep. Sergio Muñoz with questions about whether the legislator supports the creation of a Hidalgo County Healthcare District.

Muñoz, who defeated Padron easily in this year’s primary election, was guest speaker at the chamber event. The healthcare district was the hot topic under discussion, as the event was held just an hour after Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court agreed to put the issue to voters in November.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz
State Rep. Sergio Muñoz

Muñoz did not say whether he was for or against a healthcare district. He said that like everyone else he wanted to learn more about it.

“I agree, at the end of the day, that if we need to provide for the needs of the community, we should, but not at the expense of double taxing the people that live here. I think at the end of the day, if we can look at a way for the county to be more efficient and see what type of contribution people can give this district, it is a fair conversation,” Muñoz said, in answer to a question from Padron.

“But, are you for or against it?” Padron asked. Muñoz replied: “I think the issue is, when you look at the medical school itself we need to make sure there is a sustainable funding source.”

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. The Rev. Jerry Frank, who has been involved in discussions about setting up a healthcare district, says 20 percent of this money will 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.

There was a lively discussion during the Q&A part of the McAllen Chamber meeting about the healthcare district. McAllen businessman Bill Stocker wanted to know more about helping the indigent. “I have no objection to a hospital district but I do not think it is in our best interest that the county judge and the county commissioners are the checks and balances for millions and millions and millions of dollars,” he said.

Abraham Padron
Abraham Padron

Muñoz said he understood that Hidalgo County will lower its tax rate if a healthcare district is set up – because the county would no longer be responsible for providing healthcare for the indigent. “Providing the needs for everybody is one thing but doing so when you are double-dipping, I guess is the way I would relate to it, is something that a lot of people, everybody is against,” Muñoz said.

Padron again asked Muñoz where he stood on the healthcare district issue. “You say, you are not for it or against it. What is your role in this?” Muñoz appeared to take a very detached view. “My role, like everybody else in the county, is to get as much information and to hopefully be part of the conversation and the discussion. Then, at the end of the day, you allow people to make the choice they want to make.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was in the audience. For many years he was legal counsel to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance put up much of the money to kick off the Healthy Hidalgo Political Action Committee, which supports the creation of a healthcare district.

“There is a lot of confusion about indigent care. The county is responsible for indigent care. An indigent has to be a U.S. citizen. It is someone on 20 percent of the poverty level. It is a real small number,” Darling said. “Hospitals are required to take everyone who walks through the door. There is so much rhetoric out there. That these people pour across from Mexico.”

Political consultant Paul Vazaldua wanted to know how big an operation the healthcare district would oversee. “Are we going to see 20,000 patients or are we going to see 50,000 patients and how does that affect our tax rate?” Vazaldua asked. “You are right, mayor, there are lot of fallacies out there. Father Jerry Frank, telling people 20 percent is going to go to the clinics. Where did he get that from? It is not in the legislation.”

Editor’s Note: The photos in the slideshow were taken by Steve Gallegos/Rio Grande Guardian.