One way the Republican health plan will impact my rural county

Last night I used this nifty tool released by the Kaiser Family Foundation to calculate how the proposed health care bill released by the Republicans Tuesday night will impact Washington County.

In Washington County, if you are 60 years old and making $40,000 a year (per capita income is under $38,000 in my county), the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) health insurance tax credit in 2020 will be $7,800. The House plan would provide a credit of just $4,000 in 2020. That means the cost of buying health insurance for a 60-year-old making $40,000 per year will GO UP by $3,800 if the Republican plan is adopted.

Washington County health data comparing ACA and proposed plan from Republicans

Under the current plan, insurance companies are capped at charging three times the amount charged for coverage for younger people. Under the Republican plan the cap increases to five times the cost of rates charged to younger people.

There are also considerable cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

All of these proposed changes will impose serious financial and health threats to people in my county who may not be able to afford insurance any longer, and these expenses will be added to the other cuts to funding in the proposed legislation. These factors, plus others in the proposed plan, do not bode well for our hospital or facilities in other rural communities.

Last May Washington County voters took on a bond to support our hospital, knowing that the bond could not solve all of the financial problems for our struggling facility. We still have work to do if we want to keep our hospital open.

Washington County Commissioners want full control of our hospital

During the rare evening meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners  (WCBOC) last month, the Commissioners adopted a change to the Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC) Hospital Authority (HA) that now officially places full control of the Hospital Authority in their hands.

The Commissioners approved a change to the HA that allows the Commissioners to appoint, and remove, all members of the HA.(Appointments_to_the_Hospital_Authority)
After it passed WCBOC Chair Horace Daniel said they made official what they were already doing.

After the monthly WCBOC meeting on January 14, 2016,, the Commissioners went into Executive Session with Hospital Authority Chair Rob Mathis and Vice-Chair Marc Sack. The Sandersville Progress coverage the following week quoted County Attorney Tom Rawlings saying, “We had a nice discussion about appointees/potential appointees to the Hospital Authority,” said County Attorney Tom Rawlings. “We had a nice discussion with current members of the Authority and the Commissioners about the makeup of personnel – those are personnel issues as well.”

Members of the Hospital Authority are volunteers- they aren’t paid. They don’t get paychecks from WCRMC because they aren’t hospital personnel.

The pedestrian shorthand for what qualifies for Executive Session is real estate purchases, personnel, and litigation. The January 20th issue of the Progress included a letter to the editor raising concerns about Open Meeting requirements. (The Open Meetings Rule was revised by the Georgia General Assembly in 2012. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia posted a summary of the revisions on their site.)

The Hospital Authority held a called meeting the day after the Commission met. Mathis and Sack resigned. HA members Bobby Anderson and Adam Adolphus weren’t present, but the Progress reported that, “Written resignations were submitted.”

Jim Croome took up the work as the HA Chair,  John Brooker, Jr replaced Mark Sack as the Authority’s Vice-Chair, and Carla Belcher became the Secretary. Other HA members are Andre Jenkins, Andy Crabb, Raven Smith, and Terry Jackson.

The Washington County Commissioners have now positioned themselves in a very powerful position in regards to WCRMC.

Clearly they thought it was important to have their own slate of Authority members. The Progress’ coverage quoted HA Chair Rob Mathis saying, “There were concerns about Board members being here that overlap with the previous administration’s tenure.”

In doing that, the WCBOC have also removed all institutional history from the Authority. If an Authority member has a question about what happened, say, two years ago, there isn’t a single member among them who can answer. As a student of history, Edmund Burke’s quote,  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” comes to mind.

Since the Commissioners will be able to appoint, and remove, all Authority members, will they tolerate members who won’t march in lockstep with their vision? Is our county now set up to see a revolving door of HA members if they don’t agree with directions passed down to them from the Commissioners?

The Commissioners have spent over $116,000 on a consultant whose best recommendation to date is a two page document that includes a request for more consultants.

They will soon have a stranglehold on who will sit on the Hospital Authority.

And they are asking Washington County property owners to back a $15.4M bond in May.

We can only hope the Commissioners know as much about running a hospital as they  think they do.

Who else is looking at WCRMC?

To give my urban readers a glimpse of rural life, the legal organ in Washington County, and the one that people mean when they ask, “Did you see this week’s paper?” is The Sandersville Progress. The Progress is published weekly, and has no online presence. They have been doing some really good coverage of the issues that have surfaced about Washington County Regional Medical Center.

One of the two local radio stations, Waco 100, includes local news coverage as part of their programming. Last week they posted a breakdown of the travel expenses incurred by Washington County’s hospital consultant Alan Richman, at InnoVative Capital.

As pointed out by the Progress and Waco 100, former County Administrator Chris Hutchings reminded Richman that he was requesting reimbursements without providing receipts.

I submitted two more Open Records Act requests last week. The more I learn, the more questions I have.