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Manatee Memorial Hospital cuts uninsured care except in emergencies, citing funding gap

Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton is no longer accepting patients enrolled in a county health plan for uninsured residents. The hospital cites a funding shortfall for the decision.
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Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton is no longer accepting patients enrolled in a county health plan for uninsured residents. The hospital cites a funding shortfall for the decision.

Hospital officials say the county wasn't paying enough to offset the cost of treating uninsured residents. County health officials and community partners are working to redirect patients elsewhere.

Manatee Memorial Hospital is reducing treatments for patients who don't have insurance, citing funding shortfalls.

The Bradenton hospital will still care for people who can't pay in emergencies, but it cut ties with a Manatee County health program for uninsured residents when it comes to elective services.

As of June 1, the hospital is no longer accepting patients enrolled in the Manatee County Health Care Plan, also known as Good County, for elective procedures including labs, radiology, therapies and surgeries. The Good County plan covers these types of services for patients when they are medically necessary.

Hospital officials formally notified area health organizations in an unsigned letter sent May 6. In it they state that a partial funding agreement the for-profit hospita had with the county to help pay for these patients over the years wasn’t sufficient.

“This funding has covered a only a fraction of the expense, while the demand for unfunded services has escalated significantly,” the letter reads.

Officials also noted that a deal had not been reached yet for services performed in 2024.

“We continue to be a supportive community partner and will maintain open discussions with Manatee County regarding solutions, however, we need to make this difficult, yet responsible, fiscally prudent decision," they wrote.

Community groups seek to fill gaps in care

The change is disrupting care for some of the roughly 2,000 individuals enrolled in the Good County program and forcing county health officials and community partners to search for other solutions.

“We’re seeing a lot of impact right now, especially for those who had planned procedures coming up and who are in the middle of care,” said Shannon Hoyt, executive director of We Care Manatee. The nonprofit helps connect people without insurance to health services, including clients enrolled in Good County.

County health officials are helping her team redirect patients to other clinics for services like labs and imaging, Hoyt said.

People who had surgeries scheduled at Manatee Memorial are most affected, she added. Hoyt said she heard from a man on Tuesday who reached out because his kidney surgery was canceled. He worried he would have to wait until he’s in crisis to get care.

“Even though some of these things were termed 'elective,' they really were preemptive to that becoming an emergent situation, so now we're going to just see that all of these things that were deemed elective are going to become emergencies for these people because they don’t have other options,” said Hoyt.

County health officials have also said they’re working with local surgical suites to find other locations for patients to access procedures.

Federal law requires hospitals to assess all patients who show up to emergency rooms and stabilize them if they’re experiencing medical emergencies, regardless of their ability to pay. Manatee Memorial reaffirmed its commitment to do so, despite the cuts it's making to patient care for uninsured and low-income patients.

The hospital says it comes down to money

Hospital CEO Tom McDougal warned county officials about the impending changes during an April 16 meeting about the local impacts of illegal immigration.

He shared estimates from the hospital that show the total cost for charity, indigent and uninsured care in 2023 was $21.2 million, with another $2.9 million in uncollectable care. Manatee County provided just $2.7 million in indigent care funding, down from $3.7 million in 2021.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I simply cannot afford to keep doing this without being compensated for it; it takes away care from other patients,” McDougal told commissioners.

Rather than increase funding for the hospital, the county is exploring shifting to partner with more nonprofit health providers, such as federally qualified health centers, and other community-based organizations to care for uninsured and underinsured residents.

Health officials outlined a proposed plan to county commissioners during a work session on May 21.

“We’re looking to partner with community providers to get them (Good County clients) in preventative care, to screen for chronic diseases, to ensure they’re accessing regular primary care because then we can care-manage and not have those crises that are going to push those individuals to the emergency department,” said Geoffery Cordes, Manatee County health information services manager.

The board plans to consider a resolution for that proposal during a meeting on June 11.

Provisions include, among others, to reallocate $1.25 million from hospital-based funding to the Indigent Health Care Plan and to reallocate another $1.25 million from hospital-based funding annually to help nonprofits divert patients from emergency rooms and provide other services.

Regardless of where the county lands, partners like Shannon Hoyt at We Care Manatee say they’re prioritizing filling in health care gaps for residents now. They also work with clients to help them enroll in health insurance programs like Medicaid and Affordable Care Act plans.

“Yes, this is a big change and it does impact people and is bad, but also there is hope and there are people out there that are willing to help,” said Hoyt.

If you don't have health insurance and need help accessing care you can contact We Care Manatee at 941-755-3952, reach the county's Health Services section at 941-749-3505, or call 211 for Suncoast Cares.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.