Preliminary findings of a strategic health plan study for Liberty, Long, Bryan and Tattnall counties warn that residents with private health insurance will carry the uninsured at a 2-to-1 ratio.
PDA Health Planning Management Services President Nancy Lane presented the finding Tuesday during a Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership meeting in which local leaders engaged in dialogue about health-industry challenges and how to work toward a solution.
“No, we don’t know everything about Obamacare, but we can show you some things that do seriously affect the way your health-care delivery system is working,” Lane told the group.
The $75,000 study came about after the FSGMP Regional Growth Plan identified health among the area’s needs, FSGMP Director Jeff Ricketson said. The group received federal funding for the study.
“The Fort Stewart/HAAF Regional Growth Plan concluded that, due to the military employment growth at Fort Stewart during 2007 to 2011, the overall health-care infrastructure of the region is not adequate to provide services to a national standard for the existing population,” a scope of the work states. “The growth in the military population has placed a strain on the regional health-care system that was already overburdened.”
Demographics research and projections indicate the four-county area likely will have a population around 173,000, but the percentage of those who are on military or Veterans Affairs health care is projected to decrease from 53 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2030.
When TRICARE, VA and Reidsville patients are removed from the numbers, 47,415 residents are projected to have health insurance, while 22,035 are not — and the burden of the uninsured ends up being carried through higher insurance costs and taxes, Lane said.
For example, the Liberty Regional Medical Center indigent-care program receives a subsidy from local property taxes to offset care costs. But while only Liberty County taxpayers shoulder the burden, the hospital draws uninsured patients from Tattnall and Long counties, Lane said.
“It’s a national issue. What you’re seeing here in these communities is happening all across the country,” Lane said. “In a rural setting, it’s more noticeable because it’s fewer people, and in this particular case, the imbalance is so high.”
Compounding the issue is that the area has three distinct health-care systems — Army providers, VA providers and independent private providers — that do not work in tandem but likely would have greater ability to provide if they found a way to collaborate, Lane said.
“It just screams for some attention … to say, ‘Well, can we invent a way for a community highly impacted by military and VA to use the resources of the [federally-qualified health clinic], the critical-access hospitals, the hospital authority, in a way that lets us build a service that we might not otherwise have,’” Lane said.
Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Master Planner Will Ingram, Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee representative Tom Ratcliffe, Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards and Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman John McIver also participated in the conversation.
McIver asked whether the federally funded Diversity Health Care clinics in Hinesville and Long County are an alternative to indigent care.
Diversity CEO Vicki Smith said that most federally-qualified health clinics should be funded about 30 percent by their government subsidies, but about 90 percent of Diversity’s operations costs come from the federal revenue.
But because the federal-funding stipulations require the clinic to serve any under-insured or uninsured patient who seeks service, the clinic is trying to recoup revenue, Smith said.
Lane also explained that state and federal regulations present a major obstacle to health care, but she challenged the group to work creatively to solve the issue. She said the consultants also would meet with the Liberty County Health Planning Board for feedback and ideas.
The final plan will be presented during the FSGMP meeting at 1 p.m. Aug. 28.
Ratcliffe and McIver asked whether the study would provide any action plans to help solve the problems identified.
“Basically, you have arrived at the point that we hoped you would, and that’s the realization that, ‘As a community, if we could pull together, we could solve some of these problems,’” study subcontractor Douglas Atkinson said. “You’re on the tip of the iceberg of coming up with solutions.”