Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes Proposes New Health Agency Current Services Would Consolidate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes Proposes New Health Agency Current Services Would Consolidate

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes yesterday unveiled a state health agency that he said would promote women's health, provide greater efficiency, reduce duplication and save tax dollars.

The Department of Community Health would consolidate health matters handled by three departments, the University System of Georgia and the state Personnel Board. The proposal is contained in a lengthy bill to be introduced in the Senate today.

Initially, Barnes said, the agency will be responsible for operating the state's $1.2 billion Medicaid program, overseeing several state employee health benefit plans and approving new or expanded hospitals.

"State government is Georgia's largest purchaser of health care, covering more than 26 percent of our people," he said at a news conference. "But we have never combined or coordinated this massive buying power to save money."

The new agency, through coordinated planning, will save state tax dollars, he said. "It's a principle my daddy taught me -- the more you buy, the cheaper it is."

The other advantage, he said, is that instead of numerous separate departments setting health care policies, "we're going to have one health care policy. We're going to listen to everybody, but there's going to be one policy."

Under the current system, the state buys coverage separately for more than 1.1 million Medicaid recipients, more than 600,000 state and university employees and their dependents and an estimated 100,000 children served by the PeachCare program.

Paul Shanor, executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, said he hadn't seen the proposal but agreed with the concept behind Barnes' plan.

"I think what he's looking for and what we're looking for is a way to reasonably cut costs, but do it in such a way that the patients are best served," Shanor said.

The Department of Community Health would be broken into three divisions and three boards, including a Division of Medical Assistance to oversee the Medicaid program, and a Division of Public Employees Health, with jurisdiction over health plans for both state and University System workers. …

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