Health-Care Costs a Vexing Issue in Race; Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor Are Brimming with Ideas

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - The differences between Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor on health care show, as much as anything, how different they are in how they view problems.

The cost and availability of health care is a nagging question for policymakers and voters. It has vexed these two politicians since they were first elected and will probably vex them until they're out of office.

It gobbles up more and more of the state budget and it's nearly always one of the top issues on voters' minds. So solving it is a priority for both.

But how?

For Perdue, he tends to embrace ideas in the Republican mainstream, even though he was first elected as a Democrat.

He championed "tort reform" legislation that limits how much patients can sue their doctors or hospitals for errors. He signed it into law because, he said, it would lower insurance premiums for health providers so they could pass along the savings to patients.

He signed a bill that allows insurance companies to offer plans that don't include mammograms, extensive mental-health coverage and other so-called mandates that the legislature required to be covered ordinarily when Democrats controlled state government.

Perdue also aimed to save taxpayers money on health care by restricting the eligibility for PeachCare, a government program to cover poor children. He toughened the rules on paying the modest PeachCare premiums, kicking off children whose parents were late paying.

And he shifted all of the state's health plans - for employees, retirees and those covered under Medicaid and PeachCare - to an HMO-type management program. Like a private health maintenance organization, the state plans would channel medical decisions toward supposed cost-efficient options.

When Perdue announced the shift, he laid out his reasoning.

"Georgia Healthy Families will give decision-making power and control to plan members, while at the same time stemming the spiraling costs of health care in Georgia," he said.

In announcing a campaign promise recently to stop taxing retirement income, the governor described it as a health plan of sorts.

"By eliminating taxes on their retirement income, seniors will have more money in their pockets to cover the costs of prescription drugs and health care or to spend more time with their grandchildren," he said. …