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Clinics need state aid to serve needy patients

Published June 4, 2007


The move to expand current and future health care services for Pasco's needy just received a boost in Tallahassee. Gov. Charlie Crist left intact a $750,000 legislative appropriation toward a planned clinic in Hudson, and a bill to finance longer operating hours for existing clinics has been sent to the governor's desk for his signature.

The governor shouldn't hesitate to sign SB 1732, which creates a $3.5-million two-year pilot program in Pasco, Orange, Sarasota, Manatee and De Soto counties. The program's design and the division of dollars among the five counties would be determined by the Agency for Health Care Administration, but Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the bill's prime sponsors, said he expects Pasco would receive about $500,000 over two years.

In all likelihood, the money would be earmarked for Premier Community HealthCare Group, which operates in east Pasco, is expanding in Zephyrhills with the help of a federal grant and is seeking to partner with a hospital to serve west Pasco in advance of the clinic opening within a new hurricane shelter in Hudson in 2009. About half of Premier's 12,000 patients have no insurance.

The legislation from Fasano is an extension of the Primary Care Access Network, or PCAN, begun last year after stalled talks seeking a sales tax increase to serve Pasco's uninsured residents.

Treating uninsured or under-insured patients in hospital emergency rooms in Pasco cost $26-million in 2003, a more than 200 percent increase from three years earlier. More than 70,000 residents here lack health insurance and about 91,000 Pasco adults have no personal health care provider, according to the Florida Department of Health estimates.

Expanding clinic hours to serve the medically needy before they reach the emergency room cuts health care costs, or at least should hold down increases and help control the cost of insurance. The legislation indicates an average 32 percent decrease in nonurgent emergency room service by the uninsured in areas where a PCAN clinic is available. The pilot program will pay for clinics to operate evening hours and on weekends. Premier's clinics in Dade City and Zephyrhills are open past 5 p.m. just one evening a week.

"People still get ill after 5 o'clock," Fasano noted.

Perhaps most important to local governments facing difficult spending decisions from anticipated property tax reform legislation, SB 1732 requires no matching dollars.

The pilot program is a worthwhile experiment to broaden access to health care for the needy.

The governor should embrace it.

[Last modified June 3, 2007, 22:48:32]

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