By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

The health of the healthcare industry may face even greater financial and staffing emergencies if the Georgia Legislature adopts a proposed “bed tax,” a state hospital association executive said.
Georgia Hospital Association Executive Vice President Glenn Pearson said Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed 1.6 percent tax on hospital beds will be very detrimental. The so-called “bed tax” on hospitals and nursing homes is designed to raise $350 million to help with Medicare/Medicaid matches.
“Hospitals can’t absorb that,” Pearson said. “I think it is a very bad idea”
Pearson and representatives of Northside Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said legislation pending at both the state and national level could negatively affect hospitals.
“We are all looking to what happens in the Georgia Legislature,” Russ Davis, director of marketing and public relations of Northside Hospital, said during a “Health of the Healthcare Industry” panel discussion at the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber ‘s Jan. 25 Bagels & Business meeting.
Davis said legislation being considered “could impact our hospitals in a negative way, which could really affect our bottom line and in turn could affect pricing for healthcare services.”
“None of us want to raise prices for any reason,” he said.
He said Northside Hospital, which has 2,000 physicians on staff and 5,000 employees, needs to not only meet the needs of the local Sandy Springs and Atlanta area, but provides services on a regional and global basis as well.
Davis said Northside provides $20 million a year in care that is not paid for, “but we continue to remain fiscally viable.” Hospitals usually count on paying patients to cover their losses on charity care.
“There is a lot going on in health care in Atlanta right now and unfortunately not all of it is positive,” said Saint Joseph’s Medical Group Executive Vice President Maureen DeBlois, who is in charge of physicians’ services at St. Joseph’s, Atlanta’s oldest hospital.
“What has happened in the past few years here in Atlanta is a crisis in physician practice management.”
DeBlois said reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid are declining “and physicians are getting a little skittish about growing their practices. What is happening nationally is that physician practices are coming to the hospitals asking for financial support at a time when hospitals themselves are not in a particularly strong state.”
She pointed out that if any of the 100 or so attendees at the breakfast meeting have been trying to get a primary care physician within a five mile area of the Westin hotel at Concourse, where the meeting was held, “you probably have had a tough time, especially finding a physician who will take Medicare.”
She said about 50 percent of the primary care physicians in the Sandy Springs area have stopped taking Medicare, stopped seeing elderly patients and don’t take Medicaid. “The hospitals are struggling to determine how to take care of that patient population,” she added.
DeBlois also said there is a crisis in terms of a shortage of physicians. “More than 50 percent of medical school graduates now are female and they have lifestyle issues,” she said. “They want to have kids so they are not practicing full-time.”
She said that less than 25 percent of Georgia medical school graduates actually stay in Georgia.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta “shares the same issues,” said Senior Vice President of External Affairs Ron Frieson. He said Children’s is the largest Medicare provider in the state, receiving only 75 cents of every dollar of cost from Medicare. The system provides over $100 million of care a year. He said the hospital system does not do elective surgery on children.
“We thought we would be seeing a surge from undocumented citizens,” he said. “Our information shows that the number of undocumented citizens has not increased. They have moved as building declined here.”
Pearson said that hospitals on average in the state only receive 80 percent of cost of care from Medicare. On top of that, he said nearly two-thirds of hospitals in the state lost money because 58 percent of the patients don’t pay their bills.