VENTURA COUNTY I: Settlement Payback Schedule May Be Lengthened
Calling it "the first glimmer of good news since the Medicare scandal erupted," the Los Angeles Times reports that Ventura County officials reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. attorney's office yesterday that gives the county an extra two years to pay off its $15.3 million Medicare settlement. During a conference call earlier this week to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Weiss, County Supervisor John Flynn and County Counsel James McBride made reference to a Los Angeles Times report outlining how the settlement "might jeopardize a badly needed juvenile justice center, a social services complex in Santa Paula and new facilities at the public hospital." Flynn says at a closed-door meeting of the Board of Supervisors scheduled for Tuesday he will "urge his colleagues to vote for the longer payment period because it could allow the county to avoid dipping into its reserve funds to pay off the debt." Depleting the reserves may result in a lower bond rating for the county, making it more costly to borrow money for future projects. Auditor-Controller Tom Mahon indicates that the county can repay the debt without using the reserves by reducing county programs and using the $3 million tobacco settlement the county will receive. Noting that the five-year payment plan is "attractive," County Chief Executive Lin Koester says that supervisors must factor in the increase in interest the county will pay. Koester said, "My analysis up to now has certainly showed we are capable of paying it back within the three-year period of time. It becomes an issue of what is most beneficial to the county." After the board reaches a decision, financial managers will devise various repayment options which will be proposed to the board for an October budget review (Saillant, 8/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.