Weighing the Issue

WRITER: Kathy Ingold

What does the North Lake Hospital Tax mean to you?

North Lake County property owners have a decision to make. The North Lake County Hospital District tax is up for a 10-year renewal in the November 2016 local election. If you’ve ever been curious about this line item on your property tax statement, you may want to educate yourself and share it with a friend.

The Northwest and Northeast Hospital Districts have been around for 50+ years and on June 15, 1995, a Florida law passed merging the two as an independent district to be known as the North Lake County Hospital District (NLCHD). The NLCHD was established to “provide uniform and adequate funding for indigent and other health care services in Lake County,” as stated in the 1995 Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Florida. The cities included follow a dividing line through most of Leesburg, Howey-in-the-Hills, Astatula, and everything north of those cities (Eustis, Fruitland Park, Tavares, Lady Lake, Mount Dora, and Umatilla).

Florida Hospital Waterman, Leesburg Regional Medical Center, LifeStream Behavioral Center, and free clinics operating in partnership—Community Primary Health Clinic in Eustis, Community Medical Care Center in Leesburg, St. Luke’s Medical Clinic in Eustis, and LifeStream Primary Care Clinic in Leesburg)—receive funds from the district collectively. The services provided at the clinics are for uninsured residents of Lake County living at or below the poverty guidelines and who cannot otherwise obtain medical and dental treatments. “Our community’s clinics allow qualifying residents to access primary care in a more effective and efficient manner by giving them an alternative to simply utilizing hospital emergency departments for care,” said David Ottati, president and CEO of Florida Hospital Waterman. “The Clinics serve as a medical home for many residents helping them manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that help improve the overall health status of our community. “

A six-member board of trustees oversees the NLCHD and a vote of four trustees is required for any business transaction. In addition, there is a January annual meeting and special meetings as needed throughout the year. Meeting minutes, financial statements, and audits are available on the NLCHD website: northlakecountyhospitaldistrict.org.

Currently, all NLCHD funding comes from home and business owners within the district. The tax rate is one mil, or $1 per every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. Median home values in Lake County are around $137,900, according to census.gov (2010-2014). After deducting qualifying homestead exemption, the annual hospital tax amount is approximately $100 for the median taxpayer living within the district. (See district map.)

The Affordable Care Act improved the number of uninsured persons in Lake County; however, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports if Florida expanded Medicaid to low-income adults, an additional 848,000 uninsured people would gain coverage throughout the state. A recent meeting, held with Central Florida Health Alliance and the Leesburg Partnership, stated “the number of uninsured residents in Lake County is approximately 45,000,” which is around 15 percent of residents in the county. “The NLCHD provides more than $7 million in annual funding to the hospitals and clinics in the district in order to offset part of the cost of care for underinsured residents. In addition, more than $1 million is provided each year to the free clinics located throughout the district, providing thousands of primary care visits each year to local uninsured families.”

Should the tax not be renewed, some changes to existing services will undoubtedly occur. The clinics may have to reduce their hours of availability, cut back on services offered, turn away patients needing help, or close facilities. Emergency rooms may see an influx of patients and subsequently, greater wait times could occur, not to mention overcrowding. Doctors, nurses, and medical staff whose livelihood depends on their employment within these facilities may also be affected. It could mean considerable impact.

Renewal of the tax will allow existing benefits to remain in place. While portions of the tax covers indigent care, benefits may overlap in areas of up-to-date equipment, level of services provided, job market stability, and quality medical care in your backyard. High-level medical facilities impact property values, job markets, and economic development, which equates to a great place to live and thrive.

“We are thankful for the many years of support from the citizens of North Lake County,” stated Don Henderson, president and CEO of Central Florida Health Alliance. “We strongly believe that renewing the hospital district and its support of vital local medical services will keep our community healthy and strong for many years to come.”

In order to make a knowledgeable decision about this tax, educate yourself and help others learn too. Before you vote, know your choices.

Florida Hospital Waterman Community Primary Health Clinic 
2300 Kurt St., Eustis, FL  32726

Community Health Center
1210 W. Main St., Leesburg, FL 34748

212 E Main St., Tavares, FL 32778

St. Luke Free Medical and Dental Clinic
722 S. Grove St., Eustis, FL 32726

LifeStream Primary Care Clinic
P.O. BOX 491000, Leesburg, FL 34749

SOURCES: www.northlakecountyhospitaldistrict.org; edocs.dlis.state.fl.us/fldocs/leg/actsflorida/1995/1995v2.pdf; www.lakecountyfl.gov/pdfs/gis/maps/hospitaldistricts_22x34.pdf; www.laketax.com/property_taxes/index.php; www.laketax.com/forms/2015_bill_explanation.pdf; www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/01/25/2016-01450/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines#t-1; www.floridahospital.com/waterman/experience/community-primary-health-clinic; www.leesburgregional.org/services-community-center.html; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/hsg010214/12069; www.hhs.gov/healthcare/about-the-law/read-the-law/index.html; www.dailycommercial.com/news/article_0da4a176-cdd0-5ceb-afe8-da8b82fb90ba.html; www.medicaid.gov/medicaid-chip-program-information/by-state/florida.html; www.aha.org/research/rc/stat-studies/fast-facts.shtml; www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts-and-features/state-by-state/how-aca-is-working-for-florida/index.html

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