Hospital levy debated as voters prepare to cast their ballots

University Hospital officials say the indigent care levy has helped to pay for the treatment of more than 86,000 patients last year alone, but not everyone in the community is ready to jump on board and vote for the levy again this year.

"When you're looking at overburdened taxpayers in Hamilton County; does this really need to go on?" Tom Brinkman questioned. "If this thing is defeated it would be like a tax holiday; there'll be less taxes you'll pay beginning right away."

Brinkman is the co-founder of COAST, or the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. As a taxpayer, he has some concerns about the levy.

"It's good that it's going down," Brinkman said of the decision to lower the overall levy amount, "But there certainly are some questions that tax payers should look at."

Brinkman believes the hospitals would be able to provide adequate indigent care even without the levy funds.

"They are still able to bill on these to Medicaid, etc," Brinkman argued. "Maybe they don't get paid as much as they'd like for helping someone with a hurt foot or something, but there is a reimbursement scheme for them, [for] the indigent."

A spokesperson for Children's Hospital, however, says levy funds are not available to pay for procedures eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

"I think the cost of care has exceeded Medicaid quite frankly and the county needs support from its citizens because the levy provides care that they otherwise would not have," argued University Hospital Dr. Alexander Trott. "I'm talking about not just Medicaid patients, but all patients."

Brinkman also says he believes endowment funds could be used to help finance indigent care.

To that, Children's Hospital released the following statement:

"The endowment was established in the 1930's by a major gift from a donor.  The original donor restricted the gift to support the academic mission of the organization.  This mission is limited to research, discovery and teaching."

For Brinkman, he believes even a shortfall in funding would not affect indigent care.

"Would the world come to a stop? No," Brinkman argued. "Would people be laid off? Probably not. Would people still be cared for? Definitely, because it's a federal law: you have to take care of people when they come into your hospital."

Hospital doctors, however, are not so optimistic care would be maintained at the level it is given now.

"Could the hospitals get away without the levy? I would say with a struggle hospitals could," Dr. Thomas DeWitt of Children's said. "But the ability to give good, quality care across the board would be compromised."

He says while money might be saved in the short run, he believes the long-term impacts could end up being more costly for taxpayers.

"Down the road I think that Hamilton County would pay in a different way if they don't support this levy," he said.

In spite of Brinkman's concerns, DeWitt is optimistic the community will support the levy on next Tuesday's ballot.

"In my heart I feel that the citizens in Hamilton County value families, value their children, and value this levy as being important," DeWitt said. "The idea of it not passing is hard to understand."

University Hospital officials say both the local democratic and republican parties have come out to endorse the levy. So far they say no groups have come forward with an official opposition of the levy.

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