In what almost seems to be a retaliation effort by the Ector County Hospital Board, roughly 380 retirees and 88 active employees of Medical Center Hospital in Odessa are being stripped of their healthcare coverage, effective December 31, 2016.

The board’s decision to cut healthcare funding stems from a contentious tax battle that occurred in September, where dozens of residents, and even elected officials, vocally opposed a tax increase proposed by the Ector County Hospital District Board. The sheer level of public opposition prompted board members to withdraw from the tax hike and instead pass the effective rate.

Officials claimed the tax increase was needed to offset a decline in sales tax revenues (resulting from lower oil prices) and that if the increase didn’t pass, lives would be at risk. A specific event preceding the proposed tax hike, however, alluded to different reasoning which only fueled more opposition to the board’s proposal.

The original tax increase proposed by Ector County Hospital District’s (ECHD) board would have generated $2 million in additional revenue for the hospital. Yet, weeks before the proposal, board members had approved the purchase of two properties in Odessa that cost, ironically, $2 million. According to a Medical Center Hospital (MCH) spokeswoman, the properties were purchased merely for “future growth” – with no specific plans in place for them. Yet, when the board proposed a tax hike just two weeks later, taxpayers were told the hike was needed in order to “avoid risking lives”.

Now, hospital leaders are stripping retirees of health care coverage that they were promised upon employment with the hospital – just months after ECHD spent millions to acquire new, unnecessary properties.

For those under 65 and not yet eligible for Medicare, MCH will be offering a $9,000 annual contribution to a Health Reimbursement Arrangement account that is subject to change and is only available until the age of 65. For those eligible for Medicare, they are now scrambling to apply before the deadline since news of the healthcare cut broke only five days before Medicare enrollment began. By denying coverage to over 450 current and former employees, the hospital is estimated to save $3.9 million.

The recent series of events have caused residents to take notice and question the priorities of MCH’s leadership and the potential political motivation behind their decisions.

Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.