Will health exchanges ease cost in SW Georgia? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Will health exchanges ease cost in SW Georgia?


When Georgia sets up a new health insurance exchange as part of the health care reform law, the state estimates people in our area will pay more than those in any other part of the state.

Critics of Phoebe Putney Hospital say it's because Phoebe has a monopoly on health care, and they hope a possible settlement between the Phoebe and the Federal Trade Commission will bring costs down.

Dr. Douglas Patten, Phoebe Putney's Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs, expects changes with the Federal Healthcare exchange program. But he hopes it's for the better.

"What we anticipate out of the health care exchange is in their presence in South Georgia is access to some of the basic services that people who currently have no insurance or who have insurance, but can't afford to go to the doctor," he said.

But Dr. Joseph Stubbs at Albany Internal Medicine is concerned how the lack of competition will impact the cost of healthcare. "In regions like Albany, Georgia where there's no alternative but one hospital, then the insurance carriers and the industry people cannot get much of a significant discount off of the sticker price."

Stubbs says Phoebe's purchase of Palmyra Medical Center created a monopoly that will drive up prices. Exchange models show premiums in the South Georgia region will be substantially higher than those in the state's 15 other regions. Patten says Phoebe's prices are just one component.

"We have high rates of chronic diseases. We also have lower income structures here than we do in other parts of the state and this is all backed up by public health information." In April 2011, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit, challenging Phoebe Putney's purchase of Palmyra.

But now the two groups are discussing a settlement in the case-- Something Stubbs hopes will be good news for folks in South Georgia. "Hopefully we can get back to a situation where we have true competition and that will help both the quality and the price of healthcare."

 Patten says at this time they can't comment on any details about the settlement.

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