It will be three months before Hillsborough County commissioners will see a new plan for providing health care for the county's poorest residents.
The Hillsborough County Health Care Advisory Board on Thursday said it is ready for the U.S. Supreme Court's verdict on national health care, a decision that will directly affect the local health plan serving more than 11,000 local residents.
The ruling will come within the next week and set into action an assessment of the plan's management, the medical services it provides and its efforts to reach eligible residents, said Gene Earley, the county's staff liaison to the advisory board.
Commissioner Sandy Murman, who attended the advisory board meeting, said she is eager to see the program tweaked to better serve residents falling through the cracks.
The 20-year-old program has been in limbo while the national Affordable Care Act was debated in Congress and in the federal courts.
"The more serious talks will happen about this health care plan and the direction (for its future) should come from this committee," Murman said.
"It's going to be earth shaking, but we will be ready," she said.
Since 1991, the Hillsborough County Health Care plan has provided free preventive health care to poor county residents who did not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or other subsidized insurance.
The free program, designed to help residents avoid more serious illness and hospitalization, is supported by a local half-cent sales tax. Almost 75 percent of those enrolled are single adults between the ages of 19 and 64.
The plan's original mission will certainly be redefined by the Supreme Court decision. The justices are considering a lawsuit from Florida and two dozen other states that the Affordable Care Act's mandate that all citizens get health insurance is unconstitutional.
If the law is overturned, the local health plan's membership could swell. If the law is upheld, the advisory board may have to redefine or scrap the program in favor of a larger state or national plan.
"We are very much waiting on the Supreme Court for the next step," said advisory board chairman John Curran.
Curran said he is optimistic that whatever happens, the county's poor uninsured adults still will have access to affordable health care. He noted in particular the current per-member, monthly cost to provide health care, $427, is less than it was in 2005.