Industries say Southwest Georgia health care costs highest - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Industries say Southwest Georgia health care costs highest

November 16, 2005

Albany -- Albany industry leaders studied their health care costs, and found Southwest Georgia was the most expensive in the nation.

These businessmen say soaring health care costs not only hurt their employees, but also cost the region growth and jobs. Procter and Gamble Paper Products executives say health care costs in Southwest Georgia are shocking. P&G Paper Products Plant Manager Manuel Batule said "We have the highest health care costs of all the other P and G locations, not just plants, in North America. So we are the worst."

Other Albany industry came to the same conclusion. Batule said "I talked to Miller and talking with Cooper Tire, and they said you know, we have the same issue. We happen to be the highest cost for our company in this area."

Human resources teams researched health care costs for the more than 3600 employees at P&G, Miller, and Cooper for 2003 and 2004. Their findings, Medical spending for 2004 was more than 27 million dollars.

The Albany employees were paying 14 hundred dollars more a year for health care than the Industry's national average. 28 hundred dollars more than the cost in other Southeastern United States. That's per employee.

In Albany, inpatient spending was 862 dollars per employee more than other Southern pricing.

Outpatient spending per employee was 18 hundred dollars more than other Southern locations.

And they found those costs skyrocketing. The Albany Industry employees net increase for health care was ten million dollars more than other southern employee sites, a 17 percent medical cost inflation from 2003 to 2004.

Batule said "My employees pay more out of pocket to get services, so the company is paying more and they are paying more."

P&G has 13-hundred employees ,with a payroll of 90 million dollars. Batule said "Of all the things we can work on, health care costs is our number one issue."

P&G External Affairs Manager Vince Falcione said "This is definitely an economic development issue."

Health care could be costing Southwest Georgia jobs and growth. Falcione said "When we compete with another P&G plant for business, I want to see this place get it. This makes it harder for us to get those expansions."

The Albany industries have studied health care in Southwest Georgia, and find Georgia Certificate of Need laws antiquated. Batule said "Experts will tell us the lack of competition can lend itself to having higher costs. And we don't have a lot of competition in this area."

C.O.N. laws control duplication of medical services, to protect community hospitals like Phoebe Putney. But Southwest Georgia Doctors say laws drawn up in the 1960-s have allowed uncontrolled monopolies. Dr. Price Corr said "Changing C.O.N. would lower health costs, there is no question in my mind it would do it, because it would open competition."

 Falcione said "Managing C.O.N. differently depending on the region, depending on how much competition you have in the region might be part of the answer."

Batule said "It's not about Phoebe, it's about what can we do in this area as business leaders and politicians and everybody else to look at this and fix it."

 Because industry leaders say high Southwest Georgia health care costs are killing area growth.

Phoebe Putney hospital officials say they want to study the industry's health care cost comparisons, because their own studies show the hospital's costs are lower than most in Georgia.

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