Prince William County supervisors will consider giving $275,000 to health organizations to help defray the ballooning costs of health care for the uninsured.
If supervisors approve the proposal Tuesday, the county would give $100,000 each to the area's two private hospitals for the second year in a row. The proposal also would give $25,000 each to a health care van and two prescription drug programs.
The two hospitals, Prince William Hospital in Manassas and Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, provided more than $40 million in uncompensated care in 2003, up from $30 million in 2002. The grants are an effort by local lawmakers to help the hospitals.
The grants make some lawmakers uneasy; they question whether health care should be local government's responsibility.
"The county has in the past supported the health van, and I can see that it is making a positive impact," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "It's certainly a noble issue. It's just a question of whether it's a federal or state issue rather than a local issue."
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said the health care system is broken and the county government has a responsibility to do what it can where it can.
"We cannot control the community's needs," said Barg, who serves on the board of Potomac Hospital. "The community has needs, and the board is trying to help address them. It's a community problem, and we have to address it as a community."
In addition to the funding for the two hospitals, $25,000 each would go to the Western County Primary Health Care Van, the county's free clinic and Pharmacy Central, a prescription drug program.
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) said the funding, which would come from the county's general fund, is more of a discretionary grant than a recurring budget item.
"We're trying to tread on thin ice," said Connaughton, who noted that the problem is a national and state issue. "Unfortunately, the impacts are being felt at the local level. Our problem is how do we ensure that indigent care continues without overwhelming local resources?"
Connaughton said that he hopes the establishment of a federal health district with its federal funds could help ease the problem in the future. Prince William might qualify for one or more clinics, which are also found in poor rural areas and inner cities. An effort is underway to apply for such a clinic.
The problem, health officials told supervisors last month, is that health care for the indigent in Prince William is a patchwork of programs that cannot keep up with growing demand.
In Northern Virginia, 11 percent of the population is considered medically indigent, said Alison Ansher of the Prince William Health District.