Hospitals paint gloomy picture of funding cuts - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Hospitals paint gloomy picture of funding cuts

^ William Richardson, Hospital Alliance Chairman ^ William Richardson, Hospital Alliance Chairman

February 19, 2003

Albany-- Governor Sonny Perdue wants to cut Georgia's Medicaid program by 10 percent. That means hospitals would get reimbursed less for treating Medicaid patients, and many are saying that would have dire economic consequences.

It's enough of a cut that 14 South Georgia hospitals say they might have to cut services, and some might have to shut down.

When someone goes to the hospital and can't afford it, who pays? If they are a medicaid patient like one in every three South Georgians, the state foots the bill with our tax dollars.

But now Governor Perdue says there's not enough room in the budget to fully fund the Medicaid program, and suggests $278 million in cuts, nearly $44 million of that in hospital reimbursements.

"There’s simply no way cuts of this magnitude will not affect delivery of health care and health status of our citizens," said William Richardson, Hospital Alliance Chairman.

In the most drastic scenario, there is even talk of hospital closings. Six in our area could see that happening. "This will be the final blow... the pronouncement," said Ken Beverly of Archbold Medical Center.

"These hospitals are operating on bare minimums, cuts would force closures," Richardson said. Other possible consequences, job cuts, reduction of services, and simply turning away new medicaid patients.

 "I think rural physicians are going to close their offices and look for other professions," said Early County Memorial Hospital’s Kevin Taylor.

So what alternative do hospital directors see to medicaid cuts?

They say the cost of treating cigarette smokers is burning a hole in the budget, and taxing them could squash the problem.

"Over a lifetime that would be enough to save $25,000 in premature deaths," said Phoebe Putney Encology Director Mark McCollough.

The only general assembly member who has heard the hospital's concerns so far is District 137's Ed Rynders. "I get a little bit concerned when we look at cutting human needs programs, while at the same time continuing to put in the budget itms that some people refer to as 'pork.' Now is not the time to do that. I am going to have to look at budget in totality," Rynders said.

As the hospitals are reassessing their budgets in fears they'll be getting less starting July 1. One in three South Georgians are Medicaid patients. Statewide that figure is less than one in five.

posted at 5:20Pm by dave.miller@walb.com