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UF Health Jax CEO Proposes Independent Tax District To Keep Hospital Open

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UF Health

UF Health Jax will be forced to close if there is no resolution to Florida’s health care funding crisis says CEO Russ Armistead.

The Florida House and Senate are back in Tallahassee this week after ending their regular session three days early. The two chambers could not agree on how to get health insurance to the state’s low income residents.

During an appearance on WJCT's “First Coast Connect,” Armistead spoke out on the critical issue of hospital funding in Florida.

Armistead says issues with health care funding are reoccurring, and he says UF Health Jax fights to retain its funding for indigent care every year.

“Our financial structure is weak,” Armistead said. “Our balance sheet is weak, and we live hand-to-mouth as unfortunately some folks in the community do.”

Armistead proposes the City of Jacksonville help fund UF Health through an independent tax district. He says this is how other cities like Tampa, Miami or Orlando provide funding for safety net hospitals.

“You open your mouth about taxes politically, and you’re not going to get elected,” Armistead said. “So frankly unless the community thinks this is an important issue, it won’t happen, and that’ll be to everyone’s detriment.”

If UF Health Jax closes due to lack of funding, Jacksonville will lose its only Level I trauma center.

“Patients would [have to] go other places — Gainesville, Orlando — pick your spot,” Armistead said.

Armistead also says without UF Health other emergency rooms in the city will be overflowing with patients, and they won’t be able to meet the demand.

“They don’t have the inpatient capacity to admit patients from the emergency room that would need hospitalization,” Armistead said about the other hospitals in Jacksonville.

The main source of funding for hospitals, without taxes, comes from overcharging commercially insured patients says Armistead.

He says the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion won’t lower healthcare costs for insured patients. Instead these programs shift the costs to cover uninsured patients from the hospitals to the insurance companies he says.

“When people don’t have health insurance, [an emergency room] is the only option they have except for some of the free clinics we have around the city,” Armistead said.

Because UF Health is a safety net hospital, it goes out of its way to provide care to low-income and uninsured patients.

“We are one of 14 safety net hospitals in the state of Florida, and of those 14 we have the highest percentage of Medicaid and uninsured business,” Armistead said.

He also says UF Health Jax has the lowest commercial business when compared to other hospitals in the state.

“We’re a $500,000 business in northwest Jacksonville, and the economic impact of us not being there would set Jacksonville back five to seven years,” Armistead said.

Even with the ongoing issues concerning healthcare funding, Armistead says he’s confident the legislature will figure it out.

“I’m very comfortable the legislature will keep us going,” Armistead said. “I just don’t know how many years in the future they will continue to solve our local problem.

He says this is why he believes a local tax for UF Health may be a solution in the future.

Listen to the full conversation with Russ Armistead on Monday’s episode of the “First Coast Connect” podcast on iTunes.