Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 at 10:41am

Representative Metz’s Hospital Tax Plan Politically Risky

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In the modern era of politics, liberal Democrats have stereotyped Republicans time after time as mean, money-grubbing people who are only out for the rich.  Last Thursday night at the Lake County Legislative Delegation meeting in Tavares, Representative Larry Metz and his supporters from the Marilyn Bainter anti-hospital group completely reinforced that notion by pushing an agenda to eliminate the North Lake Hospital Taxing District, which funds healthcare for the indigent and poor.  Metz and Bainter’s anti-hospital group are so determined to eliminate this funding that they refuse to listen to the facts that prove Lake County’s citizens are receiving a huge benefit in the manner these funds are currently being managed.

Nickels and Dimes

The North Lake Hospital Taxing District administers a 1 mil property tax assessed to all property owners.  To quantify the tax, the average home price in Lake County is around $127,887, and with exemptions most property owners will pay $77.88 per year or $0.21 per day for this vital healthcare safety net.  The tax is then divided between Florida Hospital Waterman, Leesburg Regional Medical Center, and LifeStream Behavioral Center for poor and indigent healthcare.  Rep. Metz and Bainter’s anti-hospital group seek to destroy the Lake County healthcare system for a whopping $0.21 in daily taxes.  This is what makes no sense about the Metz and Bainter anti-hospital group attacks on this issue – it is literally nickels and dimes.

The vast majority of our readers understand the harsh economic times Lake County is enduring, and most know firsthand that the hospitals are providing services to people who cannot pay.  Yet, Rep. Metz and his group try to portray the hospitals as if they are in some economic boom.  Here are some real facts that came out in last Thursday’s meeting:

  • Over 20,403 uninsured Lake County citizens have been served by the hospitals in just the last year, which resulted in $21.1 million in charity care.
  • Last year, Lake County hospitals provided $19.1 million in Medicaid care that was uncompensated because Medicaid only pays about 45 percent of the actual cost.  What is really missed:  Medicaid is the federal government’s poor and indigent healthcare program in which hospitals are mandated to participate in with little compensation.
  • The North Lake Hospital Taxing District provides $10 million in funding for indigent care for the hospitals; however, the hospitals actually spent $40.2 million in indigent care, and this amount does not include Medicaid shortfalls.  This also does not include the millions of dollars the hospital would lose if the tax district funds are not available for leveraging other government grants.
  • The saddest fact is that the hospitals had to spend $600,000 in legal fees defending themselves in the Marilyn Bainter lawsuit, and that money could have been spent on the healthcare needs of the poor.

Even more bizarre, when facts such as these were presented, Rep. Metz and Bainter’s anti-hospital supporters ignored them because they don’t fit into their political agenda.

Rep. Metz’s Proposal Is Seriously Flawed

Under Rep. Metz’s proposal, the current North Lake Hospital Taxing District would be eliminated, and the people would have an opportunity to vote on a new district, which would allow up to 1 mil in taxation.  The proposal would change the district taxing board from a fully elected board (as it sits now) to one in which county commissioners would hold the lion’s share of the power.  The proposal does not allow consideration for indigent funding for Medicaid patients, and allows the board to review what bills they will and will not pay.  The proposal would also allow other entities to apply for funding, which would open the entire process up to corruption and political cronyism.

Rep. Larry Metz’s plan is flawed because it is so poorly thought through, and here are the reasons why:

  • Rep. Metz’s plan would disband the current funding source.  If the voters decide not to re-authorize the district, the financial burden would fall to Lake County government, which is already running a negative budget.  In fact, Senator Alan Hays asked Metz that question, and Metz begrudgingly answered that Lake County government would probably have to assume responsibility for indigent care and raise millage rates to do so.  So, Metz is playing a shell game to appease some Bainter anti-hospital constituents.
  • Why should it be Rep. Metz’s plan or no plan?  The proper question should be:  Do voters want to adopt the Rep. Metz plan or retain the current plan, which has created the best hospital system for a county this size in the state of Florida?
  • Has Rep. Metz heard about the HIPPA Law?  It is illegal for a citizen board to review the individual bills of patients, and Metz is basically creating a framework for a government healthcare panel to decide who gets care and who does not.  We think Sara Palin called them death panels.
  • Seniors on Medicaid already have minimal benefits if hospitalized, and, under Rep. Metz’s plan, hospitals will be forced to provide some citizen/county commissioner board reasoning for the care they provide – poor seniors will lose all dignity.
  • Rep. Metz and his Bainter anti-hospital supporters say they should have an opportunity to vote on the tax, even though the board is a duly elected board and has passed the constitutionality question in court.  This is a bogus argument, because the vast majority of taxes that citizens pay every day are not approved by referendum – it is a tactic by a minority group to impose their will.

Most damning for Rep. Metz is when he had no good answer to Sen. Hays’ question about who pays if the district is abolished.  In a truly Rick-Perry-oops moment, Metz had to admit his plan left a huge hole in Lake County’s healthcare funding.  The bottom line is this:  Unless Lake County citizens are ready to see their poor and indigent die on the streets, then the money is going to have to come from somewhere.

Terrible Politics and Good News for Democrats

According to recent polls, President Obama is leading every Republican candidate in the state of Florida, and I am sure Florida Democrats are salivating when they hear Rep. Metz and Tea Party leader Patricia Sullivan come out against funding healthcare for the poor, indigent, and seniors.  What Metz and Sullivan don’t realize is that almost half of the electorate doesn’t agree with their philosophy, and now they’ve made mad half of their conservative base, who believe hospital care for the poor is a good thing.

The other really dumb political move by both Rep. Metz and the Bainter anti-hospital group is these hospitals are the two largest private employers in Lake County, and the number of healthcare workers and businesses associated with these hospitals makes healthcare one of the top industries in the area.  In such a hostile economic environment for healthcare already with Obamacare, the loss of this funding could literally cost thousands of jobs in Lake County’s healthcare system.

Rep. Metz offered into evidence three unsigned letters as his basis for support on the issue, and then he attempted to make a junior-high-like argument that a person within the hospital district felt forced to sign the petition albeit unnamed.  On the other hand, the hospital presented a huge stack of petitions with thousands of names in support of the hospitals.  There appears to be a real grassroots coalition forming of hospital workers and those concerned about Lake County’s healthcare industry, which includes many in the business community who understand the economic importance of these hospitals.  Dismissing those petitions would be a real mistake.

With redistricting, Rep. Metz (oddly) will represent yet more Lake County healthcare workers, and his actions are a literal attack on their jobs.  If the Democrats were able to find a moderate, legitimate challenger to Metz, and he or she carried the flag for seniors, poor, and healthcare workers on this issue, then Metz would be a one-term representative.  Whether the Democrats can exploit the issue to their advantage, both locally and statewide, remains to be seen; but, there is no doubt that this issue and the comments made in last Thursday’s meeting have provided a huge political opening.

What Rep. Metz and the Bainter anti-hospital people don’t comprehend is that this economy has completely cut across political lines, and there are once-loyal Republicans who are scared about their future.  They see friends and family members who have lost everything, and most have seen significant cuts in salaries and tough financial times.  These people don’t support eliminating safety nets like the North Lake Hospital Taxing District, because they know that one day they may be forced to use it themselves.  In addition, there are many church-going conservatives who are not as heartless as Rep. Metz and the Bainter anti-hospital group because they have compassion for the poor.

Most reasonable people in this debate agree – if the Lake County Legislative Delegation has some concerns then they should tweak the process somewhat – now is not the time (economically or politically) to make this a big issue.  Economically, there are too many people hurting to rip the healthcare safety net away; politically, these types of debates in a major election cycle like 2012 will fracture conservative support and usher in four more years of liberal leadership.  Why risk so much now?

The Right Side of the Lake is a publication of Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C., and if you would like to comment on today’s column please go to our website www.lakecountygov.info or www.therightsideofthelake.com.  This newsletter is free to all who would like to subscribe, and we encourage you to send it out to everyone on your mailing list.  If you have information or a topic you would like us to cover please email us directly at lakecountygov@lakecountygov.info.  If you wish to advertise on this newsletter or at our website, please contact us; and, of course, your gifts and donations are greatly appreciated.

9 Responses to “Representative Metz’s Hospital Tax Plan Politically Risky”

  1. Since you are a professional you should know you can remove “name” and it will not appear before whatever you use for a name! Now you can charge more money for your expertise!

    The reason the business people like RoMac and others don’t complain abut the taxes is stated quite well in the Left Side of the Right blog! They pass it on to the consumers! The fact that they and charged it and pay it changes the homeowners equasion.

    Obivously your on the receiving side or paid by the receiving side. While I long ago learned better that argue with a fool – for those nterested parties who read these blogs let me point out just too simply facts! The last time I heard theplaintiff in the North Lake Hospital Tax lawsuit had spent about $40,000 of their own money on the suit. Florida Hospital and LRMC had a whole ground slide load of lawyers and claim they have spent $600,000. of our tax dollars defending their right to collect taxes from us without affording us our right to vote on the issue! Senator Foot in Mouth Alan Hays basically says voters making these kind of decisions might be a problem! We know politicians like Alan Hays owned by the rich and famous is the real problem!

    The difference here is the plaintiff’s were spending their hard earned money and the hospitals was spending our without our permission! Anyone without their hands in the hospital’s pockets can see my point. I rest my case!

  2. I am constantly amazed at how quickly the self proclaimed patriots here descend into name calling and allegations of unscrupulous business dealings whenever they disagree.

    Mr. Left Side of the Lake. I keep waiting for business taxpayers to step up and complain about the hospital tax. But I just haven’t heard it yet. Perhaps they understand, as you obviously don’t, that the money to care for the indigent has to come from somewhere. Either we all pay a small tax, or we settle for a small country hospital that is 10 years behind the times. Of course, alternatively we could just leave the uninsured by the highway to die, though that may have some negative impact on business.

    Ralph, thanks for a reasoned post and a reasonable request. I hope Don takes you up on it and you treat his views on air with the same respect as exhibited in your request.

    No Name, (The reason Don isn’t so strident …) I can’t imagine how anyone can read the comments on this subject over the past months and complain about censorship for opposing views. 90% of the postings are opposing views (although I suspect all such commentaries come from the same vocal minority attacking the hospital district in every venue). In any event, I can’t wait for your new blog. All negative, all the time. I assume you will publish responses that don’t agree with your views as has always been the case here.

    Finally (forgive me for not responding to the tire poster – I just didn’t get it), Mr. Fred Johnson, I do get it: “We are all broke.” Not only are we broke, but many many of our neighbors are broke. So shall we all be broke together and not worry about the unlucky broke ones among us who need medical attention? The whole purpose of this hospital district is to provide a safety net for us broke citizens. If you are broke you may need it tomorrow. Will you voluntarily eschew medical treatment for yourself and your loved ones? Or perhaps you will slink down the road to Orange County and get your free treatment there. If you want to be be honest and a stand up guy, get a card for your wallet that says “conscientious objector, in case of a medical emergency do not offer free treatment”

  3. I was at the meeting on Nov. 9th, all 5 hours. The one overriding observation that can be made is the opponents of the proposed bill were either hospital employees or those who had financial gain from the hospitals in opposing the bill. On the other hand the supporters were a cross section of the citizens of Lake County, everyone from a Doctor to house wives spoke in favor of the bill. If you can get past the egregiously large salaries the hospital management receive, in the Millions, and the fact that the State reports LRMC and Waterman provided only 2.8% and 3.8% in charity care last year, and the fact that these hospitals, because of their not for profit status, are relieved from paying huge amounts of sales tax, property tax, federal income tax, state corporation tax,(which they are suppose to be using for charity care) you still have to face the fact that these hospitals have already spent $600,000 in an attempt to deprive the voters of Lake county the Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote as to weather they want this tax or not..
    No one is against the hospitals or the poor, your characterization of bill supporters is offensive. It’s an adolescent attempt to cast the supporters as the “bad guys” but in doing so your also casting the huge majority of Lake County citizen as “bad guys” because the huge majority of our citizens support the bill.

  4. so the headline reads :plan is politically risky”. How refreshing to see that just maybe a law maker would actually do what the citizens want without checking the political wind direction like Jimmy Conner. i applaud Larry for his position. By the way Don, some people run for office to make a difference and then move on, unlike Conner who has milked the citizens for 20 years and still wants more.

  5. You just don’t get it. We are all broke. You must have a sore mouth from talking out of both sides of it. Stand or fall the hospital must make it on their own and I bet if they lose they will get along just fine. If they fail there are plenty of buyers out there to take their place. After all if its not that much money why don;t you just write them a check for all of us.

  6. And this is where everyone HAS to buy their tires. If you buy them somewhere else, your boss may not get a free set for his personal car.

  7. Name says:

    Ralph, The reason Don isn’t so strident in his views personally is because he doesn’t really side with his boss on this issue but, he needs his job. That’s why some people have stopped blogging here and moved on to places that publish their blogs no matter their views.

    A new website for Lake county issues is coming on line very soon that can tell the truth and the Lake powerhouse won’t control it. See you there.

  8. Name Ralph says:

    Don, I would love to have you as a guest on Lake county Roundtable sometime in early December so that you and I can have a civil discussion regarding the merits of the positions of both sides. You and I have strong opposing opinions on this issue, but when I talk to you personally, you are not so strident in your views. Neither side is going to get everything they desire or that they feel is the correct resolution to this issue, however a resolution is going to be shortly forthcoming. I think a discussion on my radio medium would be helpful in insuring that the resolution is something that all can live with and then we can (conservatives, that is) all move on in uniting in our efforts to get the worst President ever unemployed, not to mention a pretty pathetic US Senator.

  9. After another one or your ridiculous attempts to defend the indefensible illegal North Lake county Hospital tax once again you have failed miserably!

    “The amount of taxes per average homeowner is only $77.90 per year or 21 cents per day. We appoligize (sic) for the error. “

    In this modern world of instant communications with the gross amount of corruption in every phase of our lives, it pays to get out the pencil and paper and take off the shoes to find the real honest answer to these equations.

    You at the Left side of what is right for the taxpayers of Lake County always fail to mention that the North Lake County Hospital Taxing authority taxes every taxable piece of property within their district that is not exempt from their taxation!

    I went to just one of the businesses where I spend my money Sumter Electric Co-op and checked only the tax bill of the office where I pay my electric bill. I did not check any of their other tax bills!

    At the 50 Ardice Av, Eustis, Fl office alone the North Lake Tax bill is $393.63. I hear on the street that Dan Robuck brags that he pays $1000. Per month in North Lake Hospital taxes! What he doesn’t tell anyone is how much his hospital tax receiving buddies are sharing with him in their illegal tax revenues. It must be a good amount for all these save our hospitals from the nasty ole grandma movement articles the Dan and Don’s have published!

    Figures don’t lie but the people who believe their ox is being goared can play those figures any way they want too! When I spend my money I spend 99% of it in a business in north Lake County that also pays hospital taxes. You folks claiming to be business people know who really pays the expenses of operating a business. All costs including all taxes are passed on to the consumers! If a business fails to do so they either go broke or get some free government money to keep them afloat!

    Dan Robuck, why don’t you stop this nonsense of defending your hospital friends for their illegal taxes and let us vote on whether or not we want to give them this right. You have completely lost all creditability with the honest people of Lake County. And yes there is still a few of us left here! Being a lawyer I know credibility is not one of your virtues to begin with – however, somewhere in there you must have at least some semblance of human decency. Therein we call upon you to display some of it!

    Stop attacking the people that simply want to exercise their right to vote on being taxed by a special district taxing authority or change your name to the LEFT SIDE OF WHAT IS RIGHT FOR LAKE COUNTY TAXPAYERS!

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