Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rural Georgia Advocates Tout Aid to Hospitals

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rural Georgia Advocates Tout Aid to Hospitals

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- As much as any topic other than education reform, there's been a lot of talk during the current session of the General Assembly about uniting the two Georgias -- the affluent urban and suburban areas with the economically depressed rural communities.

Rural economic development has become a catch phrase for state efforts to boost small-town economies and stem the flow of people and wealth from those areas to teeming metro Atlanta.

Now, as the session heads into the final weeks, advocates for rural Georgia and their legislative allies are hoping to take advantage of that momentum to spur action on a critical concern: financially struggling rural hospitals.

Two strategies appear to hold out the most hope to reverse the flow of red ink that has already forced two rural hospitals in Georgia out of business and is threatening to close others.

Administratively, rural hospitals are rushing to apply for federal designation as "critical access" hospitals, which allows small hospitals to recover 100 percent of the costs they incur treating Medicare patients.

Legislatively, rural hospital officials are getting behind a proposal by Rep. Mickey Channell, D-Greensboro, to provide 100 percent reimbursement of the costs of Medicaid patients to the state's 44 critical-access eligible hospitals.

With small patient populations, a lack of resources for high-tech medicine and a disproportionate share of indigent patients, rural hospitals never have been big money-makers.

But they've been particularly hard hit by four straight years of Medicare cuts prompted by the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Hospitals also have seen steady reductions in Medicaid spending by the state.

State Sen. Jack Hill, D-Reidsville, said rural hospitals also are finding it more and more difficult to recruit doctors and have been excluded by some statewide managed care plans, making it harder to compete for patients.

Rural hospitals in Rabun and Carroll counties already have closed, while Tattnall Memorial Hospital is teetering on the brink. Others considered on the critical list are Effingham Hospital and Hancock Memorial. …

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