MCALLEN, RGV – If elected Hidalgo County Judge, Eloy Pulido would restore the $6.5 million Commissioners Court cut from indigent healthcare spending.
Critics say the funding was cut from $12 million to $5.5 million in order to save money for a new county courthouse. County Commissioners may have reasoned that if they cut funding for the indigent poor, local hospitals would pick up the slack, which is what happened.
Pulido, a former Hidalgo County Judge, made clear his position on indigent healthcare funding in a Rio Grande Guardian livestream on Facebook. Asked by guest moderator Mari Regalado if he would restore the $6.5 million, Pulido said:
“Absolutely, and the reason I bring that up, Mari, is there is so much more that we can do for the indigent. Now, a misnomer of a lot of people and a myth that a lot of people have is that the people from Mexico are the ones that are utilizing that money. And that is not right.
“We have so many indigent people. I know some people will criticize, ‘well they should have got a good education when they were in school, they should have gone to college and they would not be indigent.’ Well, the fact of the matter is we don’t know everybody’s private life, or what they went through, whether there was sickness in the family that caused them to quit school and have to work the fields to make ends meet to provide for the family.”
Earlier, in the interview, Pulido had said: “If you cannot be compassionate, I don’t think you have any business in public service.”
Under an arrangement between Hidalgo County and local hospitals, a local provider participation fund was established, with all involved transferring money into the fund. These funds go to Washington, D.C., as internal government transfer (IGT) and return as Medicaid dollars through a program called the 1115 Medicaid Waiver. The hospital consortium then handles indigent healthcare, paying doctors and hospitals for the care they provide the indigent poor. Hospitals would prefer Hidalgo County to pay the $12 million IGT. County Commissioners Court reduced it from $12 million to $5.5 million, some critics say, to provide funds for a new courthouse. The county thus put the burden on local hospitals to make the indigent care allocation “whole” to maximize the IGT match.
“What needs to happen is, first of all, we need to restore the commitment of the county of eight percent of the budget going for indigent healthcare. But what I would also want to do is, if we are dedicating this eight percent to the hospitals, how much are we really getting from the hospitals?” Pulido asked.
Pulido said the level of responsibility of local hospitals reminded him of an accident he had.
“This is personal but at the same time, people can relate to it. I was in a car accident. I went to the hospital. I was there for an hour and a half. I had chest x-rays, maybe some pain medication. And I got a bill for $10,600. The reason I bring that up is because if the indigent healthcare money is going to the hospitals, then we are probably serving ten percent or 15 percent of the people that actually should be served,” Pulido said.
“What I would propose to do is to handle the indigent healthcare money with local physicians as well. Let’s not wait until a patient ends up in a hospital or has to go to the emergency room, where now we are spending three or four thousand dollars when we could have spent $100 or $200 with a local physician.”
Pulido recalled the time he was county judge and state Sen. Eddie Lucio introduced Senate Bill 1615, which created a healthcare district run by appointees from Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Pulido said the district was prohibited from raising taxes but was able to access funds that formerly went to the Rio Grande State Hospital.
“Governor Perry was allowing us to take that money and put it together with Cameron County’s money and our money for us to leverage tobacco settlement money, which, by the way, is still sitting there in the billions. So, that’s a program that we created,” Pulido said.
“Of course, we left office and… a few months later that was abolished. That could have leveraged our $15 million, together with the Rio Grande State Hospital fund, and all that, we could have been leveraging between $60 million and $70 million per year. So, we lost out on all that.”
Asked if he would work to resurrect a Cameron-Hidalgo health services district, Pulido said: “Absolutely not.”
During the livestream, Pulido also spoke in opposition to the creation of healthcare district for Hidalgo County.
“I am totally against any new taxes, any new taxing bodies for indigent healthcare, such as Prop. 1, and the new one that… I am not at a loss of words, but it bothers me that certain representatives prefer to tax the people in order to create a windfall for someone else, as opposed to thinking, what other ways can we find (money) besides taxation,” Pulido said.
“It reminds me of a saying that a good friend of mine created, which was,’ people should not have to die because they cannot afford to live.’ For indigents, we need to do everything we can for people to be treated and for people to not have to suffer needlessly, because they don’t have money.”
The friend Pulido was referring to was Sen. Lucio. The phrase “people should not have to die because they cannot afford to live,” is often stated by the senator when he discusses access to healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley.
Pulido said he was disappointed with potential legislation that state Sen. Juan Hinojosa may or may not introduce.
“My disappointment is with our senator. Now, let me just put it bluntly, with our senator who wants to introduce legislation… now I know the mayor from McAllen, they tried to explain what it was but in reality, when you read between the lines, they want to be able to eliminate the process where the voters would have a say,” Pulido said. “My understanding is, and I hope it doesn’t happen, is that three votes on commissioners’ court would be enough to dedicate all the indigent healthcare money to the UTRGV medical school and cut the voters out of the process.”
Pulido said if such legislation is proposed, be would lobby hard against it.
“To dedicate that eight percent of that money to UTRGV, I think we know where all that money is going to end up. I don’t think there are any medical schools that provide medical treatment because those students are learning. What I would do is, I would lobby against it. But, more importantly, what people need to understand is that the eight percent, if that was to happen, if that eight percent goes to the medical school and to wherever the medical school decides to send it to, it is going to defund El Milagro Clinic, Hope Clinic, Su Clinica Familiar. There are about eight clinics that are presently treating indigents. Those clinics would be defunded and would not have any money to operate with.”
A viewer of the livestream, Patty Martinez, asked Pulido if he would support the creation of a public county hospital. Pulido responded:
“That has been brought up. I think it might be something worth studying but I think it is something that in the future, it could be a possibility. I know San Antonio has a public hospital. Of course, it would be contingent upon the growth and the funding would be adequate without having to raise taxes. I am somebody, Mari, who loves thinking outside the box. And I love people who do that as well. Just because things are done a certain way, does not mean that that is the best way or the most feasible way to do it.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series based on the Facebook livestream we held with Hidalgo County Judge candidate Eloy Pulido. We will cover the other two candidates for Hidalgo County Judge, Richard Cortez and Jane Cross once their livestream shows have taken place.