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The Guilford County Board of Commissioners will discuss today how to help provide medical care to those who can't pay for it themselves.

When the commissioners meet at 11:30 a.m. in the Old County Courthouse at 301 W. Market St., they will take a second look at an indigent health care report first presented four weeks ago. It was estimated then that the plan would cost the county $14.3 million a year.The commissioners - Democrats and Republicans alike - balked at the cost and said they needed more time to review the report.

A five-member panel headed by Louis Bechtel, director of the Guilford Department of Social Services, spent six months working on the report before presenting it to the commissioners earlier this month.

Bechtel said Wednesday that the commissioners have the authority to pick the parts of the plan they want to fund and are not bound to accept the entire $14.3 million plan.

Hospitals traditionally have taken in indigent patients and written off the loss of their care by raising hospital rates for paying customers. The cost of indigent care also is absorbed through insurance premiums. For those reasons, says Bechtel, taxpayers will have to pay the price of indigent care one way or another.

Indigent patients generally are those who are too poor to afford health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for the federal health insurance Medicaid program. For example, the federal poverty level for a family of three is an annual income of $5,980 or below. But to qualify for Medicaid that family of three could make no more than about half that amount - $3,000.

The commissioners also are scheduled to decide at a 1:30 p.m. session whether the county will condemn and take over the private property of four northeast property owners. The county offered to pay for easements through the property to install sewer lines, but the owners have refused.

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