Georgia Hospitals Warn of Need for More Funding to Treat Uninsured
Georgia hospital officials are warning that the cost of treating the state's uninsured residents has reached "crisis level," predicting that more hospitals will "shut their doors" unless the Georgia General Assembly provides additional funding, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports. To address the problem, state lawmakers on the Joint Hospital Indigent Care Funding Committee have held a series of hearings to "bring attention" to Georgia's rising number of uninsured patients. In 1998, Georgia hospitals "shelled out" about $739 million to care for uninsured patients, while the state's uninsured population has risen to more than 1.3 million, or about 19% of residents under age 65 -- sixth highest among states with the largest uninsured populations. "We are in a crisis situation," Holly Bates Snow, director of government relations for Georiga Hospital Association, said, adding that a "combination of financial stresses" -- such as "slashed" Medicare reimbursements, "flat" state Medicaid reimbursements, "flagging" county support for community hospitals, "soaring" health care costs and a "flood" of uninsured patients -- have increased the burden on hospitals that care for uninsured patients. She added that many counties no longer "funnel" tax dollars into their hospitals, and according to the GHA, the amount of funding granted to hospitals for indigent care has markedly decreased from 1990 to 1998.
Earlier this year, the Georgia Department of Community Health proposed a "far-reaching initiative" to reduce the state's uninsured population. The agency recommended tax credits for employers with 50 or fewer employees, tax cuts or credits for insurers selling small-group and individual health insurance plans and a proposal to help individuals purchase more affordable health insurance. In addition, Gov. Roy Barnes (D) has endorsed a plan to help private employers obtain more "clout" with insurers through an employer bargaining pool. Still, hospital officials say that funding support remains "critical" to maintaining services for the uninsured. The GHA has requested an increase in state Medicaid payments to "reflect actual costs" of caring for the uninsured. Hospital advocates also recommend providing incentives to counties to contribute additional funding (Bryant, Atlanta Business Chronicle, 12/18).