Crack addicts aren’t running my rural hospital

State Representative Jason Spencer thinks Georgia’s hospitals are like crack addicts because they support Medicaid expansion funding. Spencer, a Republican who represents citizens in the Woodbine area, said in a Face Book post, “By the way, many hospitals are addicted to the current reimbursement structure in Medicine (the main problem with the healthcare). They are like addicts on crack.

I’ve been lucky enough to know every person serving on the Hospital Authority Board of Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC). Chaired by retired Elder Middle School Principal Bern Anderson, the Board includes former County Commissioner Carl Forrester, retired state employee Bobby Anderson, Head Start Director Susie Wilcher, retired teacher Adam Adolphus, and Thiele Kaolin employees Marc Sack and Rob Mathis. When the hospital’s CEO, Jimmy Childre, Jr. began working there, he did so initially as a volunteer, taking no salary.

These people know that having a good hospital does more than save lives; it creates jobs (375 full-time employees at WCRMC, according to the hospital), keeps money in the local economy, helps attract businesses to our county, and improves health outcomes. The Authority Board also wants to cover the costs of running a good hospital.

That doesn’t make them crack addicts.

Hospitals, including WCRMC,  get just 93 cents on the dollar for Medicaid patients. Every time they do what hospitals are supposed to do, like save a life or safely deliver a baby, someone has to find a way to collect the unreimbursed expenses (which holds for private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid patients). The Sandersville Progress has reported on new ways WCRMC is improving collection of payments for services, but, like many other rural hospitals, we will always have some patients who simply cannot pay their bills.

Governor Deal could still take action in the legislative session that begins today to increase the flow of Medicaid funding to our state’s hospitals while the Federal government carries the full cost for three years. Deal chose to pass on that, sending the money to other states who did the math on protecting rural hospitals (even the conservative Georgia Hospital Association said we need those dollars in Georgia).

According to Hometown Health CEO Jimmy Lewis, one million rural Georgians are treated in small community hospitals every year, in addition to those traveling through rural areas who may need emergency care. Governor Deal’s decision has already hurt the communities of Folkston, Arington, and Richland in the southwest part of our state, who saw their hospitals shuttered last year. Rep Spencer said (boasted maybe) that as many as 20 more small hospital closures could happen in our state in the next two years.

Our elected legislators will be hell-bent for leather to finish the session that opens today so they can raise campaign money and get on with the work of being re-elected in the November elections.

Elected power, just like crack, can be addicting. Maybe Georgia’s voters will consider electoral interventions when they go to the voting booth in 2014.