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Hillsborough County to expand eligibility for its health care program

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted on Wednesday to expand the pool of citizens who can be eligible for their indigent health care plan.

Since it’s in existence in 1991, the program has served uninsured adults living at 100 percent below the federal poverty rate. The new plan increases that to those living at 110 percent below the poverty rate.

Commissioners also approved a second recommendation to begin including mental health services for outpatients in the system, which served 13,000 people in fiscal year 2015.

“We’ve been very conservative time for 25 years, and we think our time is now,”said Dr. John Curran, chairman of the county’s health care advisory board.

The changes would add another 6,000 people to the rolls over time, officials said.

Commissioner Victor Crist applauded the proposal to increase access for mental health care, saying it will lead to indirect savings to the county on a number of fronts.

“Other communities have successfully found reduction in crime, reduction in domestic violence, improvement in workforce and productivity, job retention, and the list goes on,” Crist said.

“This is a real safety net for the working poor,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who introduced the measure to the board. “We thought when the Affordable Care Act was established by the president that it would take care of all the heath care needs in this category. Well, guess what? It didn’t.”

She added that the state of Florida’s refusal to expand Medicaid in recent years is another factor in its increased relevance. The federal poverty rate for a family of four in 2016 is $24,250, a figure that Murman says “just doesn’t make it.” She said ideally the program could expand to serve people at 138 percent below the federal poverty rate, but officials say that would be too costly for the program. “We can’t afford it,” said Gene Earley, Health Care Services Director for the county. “It would bankrupt the plan.”

Murman said that she’d ultimately like to rename the plan after the late Phyllis Busansky. She was the former county commissioner who spearheaded the creation of  county’s health care program for the poor. Busansky passed away while serving as Supervisor of Elections in 2009.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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