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National approach to healthcare questioned

POSTED: July 6, 2009 10:43 a.m.
Courier file photo/

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston

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As federal officials continue to try to bandage disparities in the nation’s healthcare system, some local leaders wonder if it will be the promised antidote.
“I think our country deserves to have a viable health care system and I think we’ve just patched it for years and years,” Liberty Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Kroell said.
Now, people with insurance pay increased premiums to pick up the slack for those who receive care but can’t pay.
LRMC could save up to half a million dollars a year if charity care was put on a single-payer bill, according to Kroell.
“We spend an increased amount of time and money trying to collect our bills,” Kroell said. “If everybody had insurance, theoretically, the cost would go down.”
LRMC spent $220,000 on indigent care in May.
But Kroell fears the costs for a universal healthcare system may outweigh the benefits.
He is apprehensive of the costs to taxpayers. And he wonders if a universal plan will be comprehensive and sustainable.
“From the hospital perspective, it appears they are moving very rapidly to some kind of change,” Kroell said. “From a personal perspective, it’s a little bit scary because they haven’t talked about the specifics yet.”
He fears a system that may lend itself to regionalizing and rationing healthcare.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, agreed and was concerned people won’t receive the same quality service under a government-controlled healthcare system.
“We will spend a lot of time complying with government regulations and it will interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and the hospital-patient relationship because you’ll have bureaucrats in Washington saying this is what you have to do,” Kingston said.
“We’re required by law to treat people when they show up, and that’s OK,” Kroell said. “The other side of that, though, at the end of the day, the community needs to step up and support [the hospital] so we can stay in business. And the community has done that.”
Besides yearly reimbursements from federal-aid programs like Medicaid and Medicare, indigent care costs come directly from property taxes, according to county Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin. It is not included in the general fund budget.
The hospital’s tax levy currently is 3.1 mills. McGlothlin said the hospital has asked for an increase — up to four mills — the last couple years.
“The law says that we’re allowed to levy up to seven mills on behalf of indigent care,” McGlothlin said.
But that is higher than most commissioners want.
“We, as elected officials, have to be prudent about decisions we make about raising the millage rate, in whatever department it is,” commission Chairman John McIver said. “Also they were concerned the hospital was somewhat in the red.”
The commission has tried to work with LRMC, “in all aspects of what they wanted,” according to McIver.
“It was very successful because they begin to break even and get a little more cash flow since we’ve been able to help them,” McIver said.
Most of their millage revenue goes toward indigent care, Kroell said.
The face of the uninsured varies from those who work and can’t afford insurance, retired people living off Social Security checks and the unemployed.
“It’s a really broad spectrum,” Kroell said.

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