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Georgia health care — less

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POSTED: February 13, 2007 5:06 a.m.
A child living in Georgia is twice as likely to die before age 14 as a child living in Nebraska or Iowa, or at least eight other states. An expectant mother in Georgia is twice as likely to receive inadequate prenatal care as a mother in Wisconsin or Vermont.
Georgia has one of the highest infant death rates in the nation — make that the world. The Peach State also is a leader in the parade of all residents, adults and children, without health insurance. Georgia is rated among the 10 worst states in providing health care.
These bleak facts about Georgia health can be found in U.S. Census reports and in a new book, “Homeland Insecurity ... American Children at Risk.” You can also figure out we have a health-care catastrophe by observing any public hospital’s perpetually standing-room-only emergency room.
Almost every phase of health care in Georgia is in crisis. Even the health benefits plans for state employees are in trouble, with a $20 billion price tag hanging over the state in the years to come.
While bragging in his re-election campaign about a $580 million surplus, Gov. Sonny Perdue faces an immediate shortfall of at least $500 million in the coming year’s budget for state employees’ health benefits.
To be sure, Georgia is not alone. All 50 states face serious health-care-related issues. Taking care of health care has suddenly become a national priority. President George W. Bush has taken up the cudgel for expanding health insurance. Bush has discovered what Georgia lawmakers don’t seem to realize yet: Most voters are really, really interested in preserving their lives and guarding their health.
More than a dozen states are working on universal health insurance plans for their populations. Two high-profile Republicans  — ex-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California — are leading the way.
Meanwhile, back in Georgia, even as he claims huge surpluses, Gov. Perdue says millions in new federal cash will be required to keep thousands of Georgia kids covered by Georgia’s PeachCare insurance program. It is well documented that more than 90,000 children have been locked out of Georgia PeachCare because their parents were unable to make modest premium payments. Even when the premiums were caught up, the Perdue administration ordered coverage suspended for three months.
Don’t get us wrong. We recognize the Georgia Legislature is vitally interested in health care, or at least certain segments of it.
Our lawmakers are up to their ears in a battle between hospitals and physicians over whether doctors need state permits to erect free-standing ambulatory surgery centers to compete with hospitals. The many-faceted medical lobbies are pouring barrels of money into both sides of this fight. Unrestricted surgical centers would rob hospitals of profit centers, hospital advocates correctly contend. On the other hand, free-market forces could provide better care at lower costs, the other side argues.
So, you see? The Legislature and governor are indeed into health issues. The hospital-surgery center debate ranks right up there in importance with the “Go Fishing” drive and the Sunday liquor sales initiative.
Even so, Georgia’s business leaders have shown little interest in all this pointy-headed talk about universal health insurance. Sounds too much like socialized medicine or some similarly menacing program used to scare the daylights out of us back in the 1980s and the 1990s.
However, a few informed corporate executives and their government-relations people see something that they don’t dare mention much in Georgia.
Requiring health insurance for the total population is in the interest of Georgia business. In the long run, it saves money. By the way, it also helps people.
A lobbyist for medical interests sent us a confidential memo explaining the issue this way: “While the guys and gals under the Gold Dome are patting themselves on the back for squeezing Medicaid and cutting taxes every chance they get, they are essentially turning hospitals into a taxing arm of government and sticking businesses with the huge tab for uninsured medical costs.”
In other words, hospitals tack their uncompensated costs onto the bills of the shrinking number of businesses and citizens who carry health insurance. Talk about a vicious cycle. As the cost for caring for the expanding uninsured population rises, more companies and plain folks decide they can’t afford to carry health insurance. So more people join the ranks of the uninsured, and costs go up again. The upward spiral continues.
Our elected leaders don’t get it. It’s just too complicated, and there are too many medical lobbyists tugging at their sleeves already. The bozos in the Gold Dome had rather fret over whether you can buy cold beer at Publix on Sunday. They understand the inconvenience of running out of beer better than the anguish of living and dying without health insurance.
Shipp may be contacted at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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