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The reality of rural Texas hospitals

Rural hospitals have been struggling as many patients are uninsured, and Texas has not accepted the Medicaid expansion that would pay for 90% of their bills.

PECOS COUNTY, Texas — Rural health care is extremely important, and the county hospital is literally a life-saver.

Recently tax payers in Pecos County had to dig into their wallets to make sure their hospital would stick around.

Last November, the citizens voted for a tax increase. As odd as this may sound, it was all part of an effort to save their county hospital which has been running in the red for several years.

"We do find that a very significant number of people coming to the ER are unfunded, or underfunded, so both of those add up to a lot of costs for us, a lot of overrun, and so that is one of the reasons we had to go for a hospital district is the money's not there," said Betsy Briscoe, Pecos County Hospital Administrator.

To cover the deficit, Pecos County has been making up the difference.

"An extra subsidy for the hospital for this year we gave them $5 million, but in extra we ended up giving them just a little over $2 million this year," said Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster.

The problem is that Texas is one of 11 states that has not accepted the Medicaid expansion which is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Without the expansion, in November the citizens of Pecos County voted in a special election to authorize the formation of a hospital district and raised their taxes to help keep the hospital afloat.

"So what that does is it provides tax support directly from the taxpayers in Pecos County as opposed to that tax support coming from the county," Briscoe said.

"The hospital district has the ability to tax the people of Pecos County in order to be able to raise funds, and in doing so it's not money out of the county coffers, it will be a tax from the Pecos County Memorial Hospital District Tax," said Shuster.

What is frustrating to many Pecos County leaders is that the hospital, and many other rural hospitals, could avoid this entire process if Texas would accept the Medicaid expansion that was offered to states seven years ago.

The expansion would pay 90% of all hospital bills of uninsured Texans coming to rural hospitals like Pecos County.

We contacted state representative Andrew Murr to ask if the Medicaid expansion will be taken up in the current Texas legislative session that began last week.

A spokesperson said he was unable to comment at this time.

"We are a community that is, in West Texas, a rural community, and we have a lot of out of town customers from Sanderson, Marathon, Alpine, Marfa and south of here that do come to Fort Stockton and utilize our hospital," said Shuster.

For now, Pecos County will go ahead with the new hospital district and its taxing authority, with hopes that Austin will finally approve the help it, and other Texas rural hospitals, need to stay open.

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