|Ocala, FL -
March 11, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner: Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 5:07 p.m.
"We all agree we have a Cadillac of a hospital. But maybe the people of Marion County don't want to pay for a Cadillac, maybe they want a Chevy."
For all the consultants, reports, debates, analyses and spirited political give and take the debate over Munroe Regional Medical Center's future has spawned over the past half decade, few words have captured the real question better than those of County Commissioner Charlie Stone during a 2009 meeting between the commission and hospital trustees.
It's time to ask the people of Marion County if they want to keep their "Cadillac of a hospital" or trade it in on a Chevy. It's time to ask the people if they are willing to pay a half-percent sales tax to help fund hospital improvements and care for the poor.
It's time because Munroe's financial health, while not yet critical, is worsening. The Florida Legislature and Congress both are looking to balance budgets, in part, by reducing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, respectively, which account for almost 70 percent of Munroe's revenues.
It's time because with 80,000 people in Ocala/Marion County lacking health insurance, the number of indigent and charity cases Munroe sees each year is growing.
It's time because in order to remain a Cadillac of a hospital, Munroe must expand and modernize its facility and technology, sooner than later.
It's time because trustees have been discussing their options — from a tax to downsizing to leasing or selling the 114-year-old hospital — since 2006. It has been one of our most intense and in-depth community conversations because whatever course trustees opt for will be, as consultant Larry Scanlon told trustees, "the most important decision we're going to make in our history."
So, here we are. Trustees currently are looking at the benefits and drawbacks of a long-term lease or sale of the 421-room Munroe. They also are considering putting a half-percent sales tax referendum on the November ballot. They should move ahead with the tax referendum and answer, once and for all, do the people of Ocala/Marion County want a Cadillac or a Chevy in their community hospital.
There are plenty of arguments for the tax.
First of all, Munroe is a true Cadillac that ensures the best health care possible for local residents, regardless of their ability to pay.
We also are a community where retirees account for half the local economy — and no doubt, quality health care is a priority concern for that population. Munroe, the largest individual employer in the county, is not just vital to our physical health but to our economic health.
Comparisons to public hospitals elsewhere that have been sold or leased long-term are disingenuous because in those cases they were Chevys, or worse, to begin with.
Finally, with ObamaCare and Medicare/Medicaid funding uncertain, so is the future of health care in general, at least in the short term. Waiting for those issues to be settled would be wise before giving up control of our nationally recognized Cadillac of a hospital.
A five- or 10-year sales tax would buy time and give Munroe's leadership a chance to show us how a tax can keep us all riding in a health care Cadillac and in control of what is clearly one of Ocala/Marion County's most valuable assets.