Laura Colbert, the executive director of the patient-advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, is especially concerned about rural patients. Ninety percent of Georgia’s Obamacare customers would be protected from…
Senate votes to open debate on health care bill
Yesterday, the Senate voted to open debate on health care legislation that cuts and caps Medicaid and repeals major portions of the Affordable Care Act. Both Senators Isakson and Perdue voted in favor of the motion to proceed. The Senate will now begin a required twenty hours of debate followed by consideration of a lengthy list of amendments. There is a lot that still needs to happen before a final vote can be taken.
We can still stop this bill!
The foundation for the Senate debate is made up of proposals that would result in more than 20 million Americans losing coverage, the dismantling of Medicaid on which 2 million Georgia children, people with disabilities, and seniors rely, and the erasure of critical consumers protections. This legislation cannot be fixed with amendments and patch work funding. As the Senate proceeds with its debate, it is incumbent upon us to be vocal and visible in our insistence that these proposals cannot be made better.
We must ensure that Senators Isakson and Perdue hear from Georgians about what is best for our health and health care. There is still time to influence our Senators’ positions before the final vote as Senate leaders have not yet garnered the 50 votes they need for passage of any proposal. Here are three ways that you can make your voice heard in this critical time:
- Call Senators Isakson and Perdue. If you called yesterday or if you’ve never called, pick up the phone now. Ask that your Senators reject any bill that 1) results in coverage losses for Georgians; 2) cuts and caps our Medicaid program; 3) guts consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions; or 4) makes health insurance less affordable for low- and middle-income Georgians. (None of the Senate proposals meet these standards.)
- Senator Isakson: 202-224-3643 or 770-661-0999
- Senator Perdue: 202-224-3521 or 404-865-0087
- Show Up! Stop by the local offices of Senators Isakson and Perdue to share your health care story and deliver your message in person. Both Senators have offices in metro-Atlanta:
- Senator Isakson: 3625 Cumberland Blvd, Suite 970, Atlanta, GA 30339
- Senator Perdue: 3280 Peachtree Rd. NE, Suite 2640, Atlanta, GA 30305
If you are a person of faith, attend a health care pray-in today at noon. No matter where in Georgia you live, you can put your faith into action and stand up for health care for all Georgians. Click here for details from our partners at the Interfaith Children’s Movement.
3. Ask others to join you. Ask five friends and family members to contact Senators Isakson and Perdue. All Georgians will be impacted by our Senators’ decisions over the next few days. Now is the time for all of us to speak up for what we want (and don’t) in health care reform.
We know that helping people with substance use disorders get into recovery is hard and requires a lot of resources—a strong support system, the will to recover, and access to necessary health care services and supports. The prevention of substance use disorders in the first place can take just as much work and requires similar resources.
We also know that the health care bill being considered by the Senate this week, puts recovery and prevention efforts at risk for millions of people, including thousands of Georgians.
The Senate’s proposed legislation would undermine guarantees that private insurance cover treatment for substance use disorders and mental illness. The bill’s $2.5 billion cut to Georgia’s Medicaid program would mean youth in low-income families could be denied critical preventive health services like screenings for depression or substance use disorders or even something as simple as immunizations. People who need treatment services could lose coverage and access to life-saving treatment.
Congress is trying to mask the damage they are doing to our communities by setting up an emergency opioid response fund as part of the health care bill. This fund is insufficient and is no replacement for reliable health care coverage. This proposed “opioid fund” would not make up for deep cuts in Medicaid and a return to private insurance policies that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, including substance use disorders. We can’t afford to return to a time when many state Medicaid programs and private insurers covered only short-term, minimal treatment for substance use disorders, if they covered it at all.
The Senate is set to vote on their health care bill this week and Georgia’s senators need to hear from you. Call Senator Johnny Isakson today! Tell him to oppose the legislation because it would harm people in treatment and recovery, handicap prevention efforts that avoid addiction in the first place, and decimate Georgia’s ability to respond to the ongoing opioid crisis.
Call 202-224-3643 today!
(Don’t know what to say when you call? Here’s some help.)
Just like any actor is no more than 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, you
are probably no more than 1 degree of separation from someone who would be impacted by Congress’s ongoing attempts to gut Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Are you or do you know any of these people?
- A child—half of Georgia’s children are covered by Medicaid, so even if the child in your life has some other kind of coverage, her best friend or classmates probably have Medicaid coverage
- A senior who already does or may soon need long term care or supports—Medicaid is the primary payer for 75% of nursing home stays in Georgia. For seniors aging in their homes, Medicaid provides home health aides and supports home modifications that allow older Georgians to age in the homes they know and love.
- A person who runs their own business—you may know a graphic designer, general contractor, photographer, or farmer who runs their own business. These entrepreneurs generally must purchase their own health insurance and many do through the health insurance Marketplace. For those just starting out, they probably receive financial assistance to help lower their premiums and reduce out of pocket costs. The AHCA proposes to significantly
reduce the amount of financial assistance available for those buying insurance on their own.
- A child or adult with a developmental or physical disability, you are able to get what you want no matter the circumstances,—for Georgia’s children and adults living with disabilities, Medicaid is a lifeline that provides them with access to life-sustaining health services. It also supports home and community-based careso that they can live, study, and work with or near family, friends, and neighbors.
- A person of color—African Americans and Hispanics have seen historic declines in their uninsured rates since the ACA went into effect, helping to close historic disparities in insurance coverage. The proposed rollback of financial assistance for private insurance and Medicaid eligibility would have a disproportionate impact on people of color, especially children. The Medicaid changes alone are estimated to leave 70,000 black children and 40,000 Hispanic children in Georgia without coverage.
- A person with a chronic condition like diabetes, HIV, depression, or cancer—
under the ACA, people with pre-existing conditions are protected from being charged more or rejected when seeking health coverage. And insurance companies have to cover the essential health benefits meaning that the services people need for pre-existing conditions are covered too. The AHCA would allow states to waive this requirement under certain circumstances, sending people back to a time they could be priced out of coverage entirely.
- A veteran—50,000 Georgia veterans rely on Medicaid for access to health care, a 29% increase since 2013. Not all veterans qualify for care through the Veterans Administration (VA). Medicaid helps to fill the gap so that all of these brave men and women can access the care they need.
The American Health Care Act would dismantle Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act, threatening the coverage, protections, and supports that all of these people rely on every day. Think of the people in your life that fit into these categories–is it you? A parent or child? A close friend or colleague? Then take action to protect their health care.
Call Senator Isakson today and tell him about your friends, family, and neighbors who would be hurt because of the AHCA. Ask him to oppose any measure that 1) cuts and caps Medicaid, or 2) reduces coverage for Georgians. Call 202-224-3643 today!
Today the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Health Care Act, a disappointment for health care consumers across Georgia. At a minimum, we know that the bill decimates Georgia’s Medicaid program, cutting more than $4 billion over 10 years, and would result in at least 560,000 more uninsured Georgians within a decade. Through unconscionable cuts and a restructuring of Medicaid, it will put many of our most vulnerable Georgians at risk, including children, people with disabilities and pregnant women. Children from low-income families could be denied critical preventive services including screenings for vision and hearing, immunizations and treatment for mental health issues. People battling cancer or addiction could lose coverage and access to life-saving treatment. Georgia’s budget would be put under severe pressure, which could lead to sharp cuts in the services older adults and persons with disabilities need to remain in their own homes, which may lead to have the need of finding services such as a audiologist nyc which is out of state.
Furthermore, the AHCA does nothing to improve affordability or quality of care for Georgia consumers. Instead, it opens the door to discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, skimpier insurance coverage for everyone and higher health care costs for Georgians. The bill even turns back the clock to a time when insurers could deny coverage for life-saving treatments by imposing annual and lifetime caps.
“Should it become law, the American Health Care Act will have a devastating effect on Georgia,” says Cindy Zeldin, Executive Director. “It will cause more than half a million Georgians to lose their coverage entirely while doing nothing to improve affordability or quality of care. This hastily thought out legislation will lead to higher deductibles while stripping consumers of critical protections. It will force unconscionable cuts in health care services for vulnerable children, people with disabilities, and seniors who rely on Medicaid for their most basic health needs. We urge Senators Isakson and Perdue to weigh the impact this legislation will have on people all across Georgia whose basic access to care hangs in the balance and to reject this harmful legislation.”
As this bill moves to the Senate, we call on Senators Isakson and Perdue to stand up for Georgia’s children, seniors, people with disabilities, pregnant women, families and those with pre-existing conditions who will pay a dangerous price if this ill-conceived bill becomes law. They should reject this bill and any bill that cuts coverage, reduces protections, and raises costs for Georgians.
We need you to #ProtectOurCare
We know how hard you all have worked over the last several weeks to defeat the AHCA. We want to thank you for your time and advocacy, but our work continues. It is imperative that Senator Isakson and Senator Perdue hear a swift and powerful message from their constituents–you! Call them today to tell them to reject the American Health Care Act.
Senator Isakson: 770-661-0999
Senator Perdue: 404-865-0087
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin attended the Spring Meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in her role as a consumer representative to the NAIC. At the meeting, a group of health-focused consumer representatives presented an overview of a new report authored by a diverse group of patient and consumer advocates highlighting the need to ensure that any changes to the health care system do no harm to consumers, minimize market disruption, and maintain common-sense consumer protections. The report, The Need for Continued Consumer Protections and Stability in State Insurance Markets in a Climate of Federal Uncertainty, conveys the perspective of consumer advocates on the need for continued access to high-quality health insurance products—regardless of whether and how changes are made at the federal level—and the likely impact that some proposed Affordable Care Act replacement policies will have on consumers and state insurance markets. The report discusses:
• What consumers want when it comes to private health insurance;
• The progress that has been made in reducing the uninsured rate since 2010 and the risks of full or partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act;
• Key principles—such as insuring the same number of consumers with the same quality of coverage and minimizing market disruption—that we urge policymakers to apply when considering further changes to the market; and
• Concerns about the impact of potential changes on consumers and state markets, with an emphasis on high-risk pools, continuous coverage requirements, high-deductible health insurance products, association health plans, the sale of insurance across state lines, the loss of essential health benefits protections, and the need for continued nondiscrimination protections.
An overview of the report was provided to state insurance commissioners during the NAIC/Consumer Liaison Committee meeting on Monday, April 10th during the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Spring 2017 National Meeting in Denver, Colorado. The authors of the report serve as appointed consumer representatives to the NAIC and members come from national organizations such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, Consumers Union, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness; state-based advocacy organizations such as the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Georgians for a Healthy Future, and the North Carolina Justice Center; and academic centers such as Georgetown University and Washington & Lee School of Law.
The full report is available here.
Senate Health Reform Task Force held first public meeting
The Senate Health Reform Task Force was established by Lt. Gov. Cagle to study how federal health reform efforts would impact Georgia. The task force held its first public meeting on Friday and heard from two federal health policy professionals, Joseph Antos and Jim Frogue. Together, they provided a brief overview of the proposed American Health Care Act, some analysis of how the bill would impact Georgia, and suggestions for legislators to consider. The message from both presenters is that the AHCA is “not favorable” for Georgia because of the way the proposal cuts and caps Medicaid which would lock in Georgia’s pattern of low per capita Medicaid spending.
We agree that this proposal is “not favorable” for Georgia. Despite the harm it would do to our state, the bill seems headed for a vote in the House of Representatives. Call your Congressman today to tell him that this bill hurts Georgia!
Surprise billing legislation progresses in both chambers
Both SB 8 and HB 71 were passed out of their respective Senate and House committees late last week. SB 8 has been held up because of a dispute between insurers and health care providers about reimbursement. The bill was amended to establish out of network payment for disputed charges at the 80th percentile of the “Fair Health” metric and was subsequently passed by the Senate Health & Human Services committee. HB 71 seeks to compel physicians who are credentialed at hospitals to accept an in-network rate when the patient is in-network at the hospital, even if the physician is not. It was passed unamended by the House Insurance Committee. Both bills await approval in the Rules Committees to receive floor debates and votes.
House passes FY2018 budget
The House of Representatives passed its version of the FY2018 budget on Friday. The budget includes increased reimbursement rates for certain primary care codes for Medicaid providers. Increased reimbursement rates are also funded for certain dental codes in PeachCare for Kids and Medicaid. The budget includes funds for two new federally qualified health centers in Cook and Lincoln counties, and 97 new primary care residency slots. The FY 2018 budget is now being considered by the Senate, which is expected to make its own changes before issuing its final approval. Check out Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s blog and budget primer for more detailed information about how Georgia spends its health care dollars.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Changes to rural hospital tax credits
HB 54, introduced by Rep. Duncan, would expand the new rural hospital tax credit program from a 70% credit to a 90% credit, among other minor changes. The tax credit program went into effect this year, after enabling legislation was passed in 2016. The proposal to increase the tax credit to 90% came after legislators received feedback that the 70% credit was too low to entice potential donors. HB 54 was approved by the House Ways & Means committee on Feb. 9, and now awaits passage in the House Rules Committee.
Opioid abuse prevention bill
SB 81 remains in the Senate Rules Committee waiting for approval for floor debate and passage after committee approval late last week. The current version of the bill requires that all physicians register and consult the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) under certain prescribing conditions. It also requires that providers report certain opioid-based Schedule II, III, IV, and V prescriptions to the PDMP. The bill sets the penalty for willfully non-compliant providers on a continuum that ranges from a warning to a felony and fine for a fourth offense and beyond. The bill also requires the tracking and reporting of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and codifies the Governor’s emergency order on an overdose reversal drug (naloxone), making it available without a physician prescription.
MARCH WITH US!
This Saturday: Atlanta March for Healthcare
Yesterday, we rallied at the Save My Care bus stop, and Saturday we will march at the Atlanta March for Healthcare! Join us as we fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act and the protections that it provides for Georgians. Hosted by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the march will cap Congress’s week of recess and send them back to D.C. with the charge to #ProtectOurCare!
Saturday, Feb. 25, 3-5 pm
Gather at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church
Georgians for a Healthy Future will be at the Capitol throughout the forty-day session to monitor health-related legislation, serve as a voice for health care consumers, and keep you informed about opportunities to engage and take action. For the past four years, our top legislative priority had been closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. In the wake of the 2016 election, the national policy landscape has shifted considerably, knocking that off the table this year and placing existing coverage, care, and consumer protections at risk. Despite this backdrop of uncertainty and a critical need for federal advocacy, there will be important decisions made over the next three months at the state level that impact the health of individuals, families, and communities.
While it is early, here are the major health care issues we preliminarily expect legislators to tackle in 2017:
- Renewal of the provider fee commonly known as the “hospital tax” or “bed tax” to help fund Medicaid and keep hospital doors open
- Development of a set of reforms to improve mental health services based on the recommendations of a legislative study committee that has been meeting over the past several months
- Creation of a “repeal” task force to assess the impact of changes to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Georgia
- Addressing the practice of surprise medical billing, which can leave insured consumers with unexpected bills when a health care provider is out-of-network
- Increasing reimbursement rates for certain primary care services for health care providers participating in Medicaid
- Improving access to dental care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities
Georgians for a Healthy Future has several ways for you to stay up-to-date on what’s happening under the Gold Dome this year:
- Learn: Download our 2017 policy priorities, read up on how the legislative process works, and track health-related legislation
- Engage: Sign up for our Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) action alerts
- Participate: Identify and contact your specific legislators on issues you care about
Stay tuned for updates throughout the session.
Tuesday’s election results have the potential to dramatically shift the health care landscape nationally and here in Georgia. It’s too soon to know precisely what policy changes will occur and what their impact will be, but advocacy at both the state and federal levels on behalf of Georgians who need access to quality, affordable health care has never been more important.
The President-Elect and Congressional leadership have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, landmark legislation that established a framework for coverage that has resulted in the lowest uninsured rate ever recorded, rights and protections for health care consumers, and provisions to advance health equity. Repeal is a serious threat and the consequences would be devastating: twenty million Americans and nearly 500,000 Georgians would lose their coverage, while millions more would be stripped of basic protections and face higher costs. Congressional leaders have also signaled their intention to make cuts to Medicaid and other critical health care programs, which would further threaten coverage and access to care for Georgia children and families.
Georgians for a Healthy Future is committed to lifting up the voices of Georgians whose basic access to care hangs in the balance and ensuring these voices are heard and considered as policy decisions are made. We cannot return to the days when anyone with a pre-existing condition like cancer or diabetes can be denied coverage, where women can be charged more for health insurance simply because of their gender, and where LGBT Georgians can be discriminated against in health care. We cannot allow the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who have finally experienced the sense of security that comes with health coverage to go back to being uninsured and out of options. In short, we plan to fight and we need your support and partnership.
We ask you to partner with us in the coming weeks and months as our work enters this new phase. Here is what you can do:
Thank you for all that you do.
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin sat down with A Spirit of Charity author Mike King to discuss his new book on the role of public hospitals in America. Below is a Q&A that delves into some of the book’s major themes. On July 19th, Georgians for a Healthy Future will hold a book event in Atlanta with Mike King, providing a unique opportunity for the advocacy community to discuss the history and role of public hospitals in America and the direction of health policy in Georgia with the author.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have been writing and editing stories about medicine and health care policy for about 30 years. When the newspaper business collapsed and I chose to leave it in 2009, I thought I’d just retire and take it easy. But when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 I realized I had the time, without daily deadline pressures, to tell a story about the most important effort at reform over the last 50 years and how it might play out right here in Atlanta and at Grady in particular.
How do public hospitals serve as a window into America’s health system?
As the book hopefully makes clear, the people who show up in the emergency rooms and clinics of America’s public hospitals are the result of all gaping holes, political compromises and unintended consequences of decades of attempts to reform our health care system. Even in our noblest of efforts, we always seem to leave whole segments of our society behind. Donald Trump, in a candid moment earlier in the campaign when the media pushed him for more details about what his alternative to Obamacare would look like, frustratingly blurted, “Look, we won’t let people die in the streets, OK?” In some ways that’s been our baseline as a health care system from the start, which is why public hospitals were created. We don’t let our citizens die in the streets. They get sick in the street but, if they are lucky, we get them to a public hospital that hopefully will rescue them from dying before they return to the streets. That’s a harsh assessment, I know, and we do much better than that in many places thanks to the commitment of engaged local and state leaders, but there are too many places where the local public hospital seems expected to shoulder this burden on its own.
Four of the five hospitals profiled in your book are located in the South, and the role of Southern politicians in crafting U.S. health policy is explored throughout the book. Why a focus on the South?
Because the South is where the most problems are. Texas, Florida and Georgia lead the nation in the dubious distinction of having the most uninsured residents among all 50 states – mostly because all three have refused to expand Medicaid the way the ACA called for. Louisiana is high on the list too, but the new governor there is moving to try to expand Medicaid. Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Jackson Memorial in Miami, the University Medical Center in New Orleans (the replacement hospital for Charity) and, of course, Grady, all have to contend with a huge percentage of patients who are poor and uninsured and could be, should be, covered by Medicaid. That’s why I chose them.
Some public hospitals like Grady were established during segregation. The 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which catalyzed hospital construction, contained a provision permitting segregation in hospitals receiving federal funds. How does this legacy of segregation impact public hospitals today?
Hill-Burton was the first time federal law actually codified a separate-but-equal funding mechanism and it was inserted into the law specifically to get members of Congress from the South to go along. Rural hospitals around the South and more than a few in the suburbs were built in the 1950s and 60s with Hill-Burton money. Grady was rebuilt as a segregated hospital in 1958. After the enactment the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Medicare in 1965 that changed. Segregated hospitals – public and private – stood to lose too much money that they would be getting for the care of previously uninsured elderly patients if they stayed segregated. But there is still a legacy to overcome. There’s a reason elderly Atlantans still refer to Grady as the Gradies, going back not that long ago to when there was a Black Grady and a White Grady, with black nurses taking care of black patients and white nurses taking care of white patients. It still complicates the public discussion about how best to finance and administer this particular public hospital. I suspect that goes on in a lot of communities around the South that share a similar legacy.
You write that public hospitals serve as a “pressure release valve” for our nation’s health system. What do you mean by this?
We often refer to these places as safety net hospitals. But I contend they are more than that. The existence of a single hospital in a community that is chartered or required to take in all patients regardless of ability to pay fundamentally alters the medical marketplace in that community. It allows those hospitals that compete with it to measure their anticipated level of charity care against their expected revenue from insured patients and come up with a formula that helps them stay healthy and able to grow. It is not that most of these competing hospitals don’t provide a responsible level of charity care. Most of them do. But it is always at a level they can afford to provide. Public hospitals operate on a totally different business model. They have to take all comers and the only way they can stay open is to get some level of funding from state and local taxes to offset their losses. Here’s another way of looking at it: If Grady had gone belly up in 2007 and 2008, all the uninsured and indigent patients it served would have swamped the emergency rooms of Piedmont, the Atlanta Medical Center, Northside, St. Joseph’s, Emory and DeKalb Medical as well as other hospitals, jeopardizing their ability to provide the level of services their business model calls for. The safety valve would have blown.
Information about Medicaid, the health care program intended to help finance care for low-income Americans, is interwoven throughout your book. How are the histories and fates of Medicaid and public hospitals intertwined?
They are the key to understanding each other because Medicaid patients make up a large portion of the patients who go to these hospitals. When Medicaid was enacted in 1965 the theory was that with a health insurance program now in place for the poor and with Medicare available to the elderly, our nation’s public hospitals would finally start getting paid for many of the services they had been providing on a charity basis. But unlike Medicare, Medicaid was hampered – I would argue fundamentally flawed – by a series of compromises to get it through Congress. States were given a much bigger role in determining how poor you had to be to qualify for Medicaid, how much they wanted to pay doctors and hospitals to provide services for Medicaid patients and indeed whether they wanted to participate in the program at all. (Arizona didn’t join Medicaid until the 1980s.) The result was a checkerboard of health care programs for the poor around the country, based largely on what the states decide. And in the South, Medicaid has been chronically underfunded at the state level and treated more like a welfare program. This is how Southern politicians get away with calling it a failure. They starve it for funds, make it difficult for low-income people to get covered by it, grossly underpay doctors and hospitals that take patients covered by it and then decry the program for not working and being inefficient.
America’s health system is characterized by fragmentation. Why do you think this is and what is the role of public hospitals in a fragmented system?
We’ve all heard it before. America has a sick care system, not a health care system. And that system is based on who pays for sick care, not necessarily how we can more effectively pay for care to help keep people healthy. The good news is that the ACA is moving in the direction of breaking down some of the silos that have developed over the decades in how we deliver and pay for health care, with an emphasis on moving away from paying a fee for specific services and toward paying for overall wellness. That’s good. But it will take years to see results. Public hospitals will need to move in this direction as well – and some of them are. Cook County’s Medicaid Program (County Care) is coordinating care with its community hospital and clinic network and the federally funded community health centers in Chicago. The initial results look encouraging. If it works it will not only save lives but help control the rise in costs. But public hospitals must adapt to these new models and remain, in most large cities, the sole providers of costly essential services like trauma, HIV/AIDS and behavioral health for those who are still uninsured.
You write that, if public hospitals didn’t exist, “We would have to invent them.” What would an America without public hospitals look like?
It would be fascinating to see, wouldn’t it? Public hospitals were created one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago when it became obvious that the charitable institutions in large American cities could not meet the demand for care caused by yellow fever, cholera, pestilence and other public health threats, not to mention the population growth in cities after the Civil War. The almshouses and infirmaries, often staffed by religious women and funded by churches and community groups, just could not keep up. I suspect the same would happen today if we came to rely exclusively on the nonprofit sector to take over the responsibility for caring for the poor and uninsured. Even if we became enlightened and created a system of true universal insurance for all Americans, there would still be a need for expensive specialty areas. Trauma care, infectious disease programs, severe, chronic mental health services – these essential services now almost exclusively provided by public hospitals – I would suspect they would require some level of local and state financing at a public facility that would go beyond what they can expect in the way of revenue from a public insurance plan.
Grady is featured prominently throughout the book. What did you learn about Grady by writing this book that you didn’t know before?
That it is even bigger and more complicated and harder to manage than I ever dreamed. I think the current administration there is doing a really good job at getting the hospital positioned to be everything it can be. The quality of the specialty services there – trauma, neuroscience, neonatology, burn care, sickle cell, infectious disease – has probably never been better. The cancer program there, in addition to being first rate at the acute care level, is making great strides in the community in the much-needed area of early detection and treatment. That will go a long way toward reducing the disparities that exist in morbidity and mortality between white and black, affluent and poor residents of our community. But the hospital is still heavily reliant on the business and philanthropic community to grow, especially when it comes to capital improvements and equipment. That’s all been private money since the comeback started. State and county officials have yet to step up to the plate to help. If they are willing to help the Braves and the Falcons build new venues, they must be willing to step up to help Georgia’s most important hospital build and grow and provide essential services.
What role does Grady serve in health care policy in the state of Georgia?
The state needs to recognize Grady is a statewide institution, if for no other reason than it is the training ground for about one in every four doctors practicing in Georgia. I’ve often wondered whether the state’s relationship with Grady would be different if it had been affiliated with a state medical school instead of Emory and Morehouse – two private medical schools. Perhaps then it would have paid more attention to it. Even though Grady gets patients from almost every one of Georgia 159 counties, it isn’t realistic to think the state must subsidize indigent patient care there, but it could do much better and providing funding for the specialty services that Grady provides to all Georgians – trauma care, burn care, infectious diseases, etc. And, of course, it should expand Medicaid coverage so that Grady and all other hospitals in the state that have a heavy load of uninsured patients will at least have an opportunity to recoup some of their costs.
Where do you think Georgia is headed on health care policy?
I think we’ll expand Medicaid. Eventually. After President Obama is in the rear view mirror. We’ll call it something else so it doesn’t sound like it is part of Obamacare. But we will have squandered $3 to 5 billion and 100 percent federal funding to make this impetuous political statement, and no telling how many Georgians – one study puts it at 1,200 lives a year – who died because they lived in a state where they should have, but were kept from, enrolling in Medicaid. With a little political vision – and the help of advocates and experts – my hope is that we could create a Medicaid program that isn’t so fragmented; that fully integrates primary care and acute, hospital care; that reorganizes local hospitals and health departments into a true public health system that helps people stay healthy and when they get sick have no barriers to the care that they need. That shouldn’t be a pipe dream in a country as wealthy and smart as ours. That should be a working reality.