TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners approved Central Health’s $300.8 million budget and tax rates for fiscal year 2022-23, with a lone dissenting vote coming from Commissioner Margaret Gómez. Ahead of her vote, Gómez expressed her frustrations with a lack of answers to questions she said she’s asked Central Health officials for years.

Central Health is the public hospital district in Travis County created to provide healthcare services for people who are low-income, lack easy access to care and are uninsured.

Central Health’s FY23 budget marks a $90.5 million increase in funds allocated to healthcare resources for Travis County residents. As part of the budget, Central Health is investing in its new Healthcare Equity Plan, which includes expanded primary care access; behavioral health and substance use treatment; specialized care through partnership contracts; direct healthcare services; and pharmacy services.

This marks Central Health’s first budget that calls for direct care as opposed to solely purchased healthcare services. The FY23 budget calls for $5.7 million in direct healthcare services and nearly $130 million in purchased healthcare services.

The now-approved tax rate for FY23 is listed at 0.098684, roughly 9.9 cents per $100 valuation. The average taxable homestead property tax will decrease by approximately $3.99 for Travis County homeowners, according to backup documents.

Some commenters Tuesday took issue with Central Health’s accumulation of contingency reserves, noted at $327.8 million. Frank Ortega with LULAC District VII called on $100 million of Central Health’s reserves be used for the following means:

  • Expand CommUnityCare clinic operating hours, reduce wait time, improve clinical care in Eastern Crescent
  • Provide capital reserve for Sendero to enter the STAR+PLUS program to offer Medicaid for older residents and those with disabilities
  • Increase funding for the Sendero CHAP program to serve 2,000 people, up from the budgeted 750-person amount
  • Increase funding for Sendero Premium Assistance Program to assist more Austin musicians with accessing healthcare
  • Increase funding for additional specialty appointments for MAP members

Texas LULAC District VII, along with NAACP-Austin, have previously expressed concerns over Central Health spending. Travis County commissioners approved in July an independent performance audit on Central Health; an update is expected to be presented Tuesday.

Other public commenters, including Maria Emerson from Advocates for Social Justice Reform, spoke in favor of approving the budget. Emerson said that, while there’s always room for improvement, she’s seen a lot of growth and improvement in its operations in recent years.

Referencing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote, she said “justice delayed is justice denied,” adding delaying or not approving the budget would’ve been disadvantageous to many residents.

Commissioners referenced an alleged lack of respect shown toward Gómez Monday as she sat in on Central Health’s special called budget meeting. A Central Health staff member apologized to her during commissioner’s court Tuesday, with Commissioner Jeff Travillion adding it is her duty to ask difficult questions and that she ought to be provided with appropriate responses.

Commissioners and key Central Health leaders agreed to frequent meetings between the governing body, Central Health and nonprofit Sendero Health Plans to increase transparency and provide regular updates. Some of the work Central Health and Sendero Health Plans will collaborate on this fiscal year include outreach efforts to community organizations to provide subsidies for populations who might be able to qualify for insurance.

According to Central Health budgetary figures, there are 161,000 uninsured county residents, with 107,000 of them enrolled in Central Health services. There are approximately 18,000 uninsured county residents who fall less below the 200% threshold of the federal poverty level — a key group Central Health officials said they’ll be targeting moving forward.