Hospital Authority OKs contract amendment that could save taxpayers $500K a year

The Medical Center Hospital Authority has unanimously approved an amendment to its 30-year indigent and inmate care contract with the city of Columbus that should save taxpayers more than $500,000 a year.

The four-pronged amendment still must be ratified by Columbus Council before it would take effect.

Columbus Regional President and CEO Chuck Stark presented the amendment to the authority at a special called meeting Thursday afternoon. He explained that it had grown out of conversations he had with community leaders about the relationship between his company and the Consolidated Government, which he had heard was strained because of health care costs and specifically the contract for indigent and inmate health care.

“So based on that information, I made an appointment with the mayor to talk about our relationship and frankly, our desire to reset that relationship,” Stark said. “In that meeting, the mayor shared with me that there were two primary issues, both tied to the Muscogee County Indigent Care Program.”

The city entered into the contract in 1992. It requires the city to pay Columbus Regional three mills from the city’s total tax digest for indigent and inmate health care. The amendment applies the three mills only to actual taxes collected rather than the entire digest.

Also under the contract, Midtown Medical Center provides $500,000 a year in inmate health care. The hospital has been charging the city at what is called the “charge master rate,” which is 100 percent of the value of the services provided, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson explained. The amendment drops that rate to 50 percent, in effect doubling the value of the $500,000.

The amendment also limits the annual increase for the remaining term of the contract, which expires in 2022, Stark said.

Finally, under the amendment, should the total cost of indigent and inmate health care fall short of what the city has paid, half of the excess payment would be returned to the city.

Tomlinson said that in her meeting with Stark she was impressed by how responsive he was to the city’s concerns.

“He genuinely wanted to improve on the relationship in every aspect,” Tomlinson said. “And the truth is, we really are partners in indigent care and in many other things.”

Tomlinson said the difference between three mills on the entire tax digest versus applying it only to taxes collected will be a drop from $13.4 million to $12.9 million in fiscal 2015.

“It’s an opportunity for a new era in the relationship between The Medical Center and the city,” Tomlinson said. “We know that it’s going to save us at least $500,000 a year, and it could be more.”