The safety net for unfunded indigent care costs in Longview widened a little Monday.

The Gregg County Commissioners Court voted to allow Longview’s two hospitals to put back more revenue to use as matching funds for federal reimbursement on the money they spend caring for low-income and uninsured patients.

Christus Good Shepherd and Longview Regional medical centers can now reserve up to 6% of the net revenues they collect from all patients — a rate that could draw as much as $35 million between the two hospitals.

If and when the federal government opens indigent funding, the hospitals can use those reserves as a match for federal indigent care reimbursement dollars, hospital administrators and County Auditor Laurie Woloszyn said.

County commissioners unanimously increased the rate to 6% from the previous rate of 5.61%. The maximum rate allowed by state law is 6%, Woloszyn said, and when combined with the $6.28 million already in the fund, it could mean as much as $35.35 million that the hospitals could reserve from net patient revenues this fiscal year.

The court also authorized the county clerk and auditor to handle transfers of the hospitals’ money into a Local Provider Participation Fund — a state requirement — so that the money is available more quickly when federal matching funds are requested.

“This is a new statute that the Legislature adopted this year,” Woloszyn said, “and it just requires us to coordinate with the court in the portal to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.”

In 2015, Gregg County created the Local Provider Participation Fund under a new state law meant to reimburse Longview’s two hospitals with, at that time, $15 million or more from Medicaid. The reimbursements helped offset about $50 million in uncompensated care that the hospitals provided to uninsured, low-income or Medicaid patients.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd said those unfunded indigent care costs have been a financial burden to both Longview Regional and Christus Good Shepherd.

“That was a big part of them barely making it” several years ago, Boyd said, “so that’s one thing that made me want to do this.”

Gregg County was among the first in the state to create the fund, but Local Provider Participation Funds have since been established in 28 counties including Smith, Cherokee and Bowie, said Mary Elizabeth Jackson, vice president of government affairs and community relations for Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System.

The reimbursements supplement the local hospitals for treating those whom Jackson described as among “the most vulnerable patients that they have in our communities.”

Local Provider Participation Fund programs “are in a lot of areas where you don’t have big public hospitals,” Jackson said, “and yet people can’t get from Longview to Dallas or Austin or Houston when they get sick. They come to the emergency rooms of the hospitals (in Longview), and that’s what this is about, and so by coming and developing these programs that are approved by the federal government and approved by the state government, Gregg County was one of the first that came together.”

Jackson and Longview Regional CEO Casey Robertson attended the Gregg County commissioners’ meeting Monday to thank the county for expanding upon a program that helps offset the indigent cost burden.

“I would just echo we appreciate the court considering this the last several years that it’s been approved,” Robertson said, “and it is much needed.”

After the meeting, Jackson said, “I think the citizens should be very proud that Gregg County undertook to work with hospitals and to understand what the needs of the citizens are to ensure that regardless of their ability to pay, that when they are ill, if you are a citizen here in Gregg County, that you have a place to go and get taken care of.”

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.