Health care a hot issue under Gold Dome

Opinion column

Mac Gordon

Mac Gordon

In a news disseminating career of four decades-plus, I have seen my share of hospital- and medical care-related controversies. Health-care companies’ attempts to overtake one another or, on another angle, governments trying to put more taxes on hospitals to help fund certain services come to mind.

The issues I am familiar with date to the mid-1940s. In one instance, my Mississippi hometown, while battling to build its citizens a more modern regional hospital, turned down a U.S. Veterans Administration facility because it would serve all races. Many whites would have considered acceptance of such a condition as sheer blasphemy in the pre-civil rights Old South.

More recently, I was witness to one of the titanic hospital-take-over wars of alltime -- the long-running plan of Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to acquire Palmyra Medical Center, a deal finally consummated in 2011.

The most pleasant portion in my tenure of watching and writing about medical care was a stint in public relations at Phoebe Putney in the mid-1990s when its effort to buy Palmyra was beginning. There, I was privileged to be the lone male amid a brigade of bright, energetic and creative women who were the heart and soul of that winning PR team. Trust me, they did all the heavy lifting. (I saw one of them recently; she promises to give all of you others my regards.)

Perhaps the most important health-care controversy of recent times is at hand now in the capitols of government across the nation, from Washington to Sacramento to Jackson to Atlanta and elsewhere in between. The issue is whether to expand the Medicaid program in the states under the so-called “Obamacare” health initiative.

I have written in some Mississippi newspapers how it is ridiculous for that poor state not to expand the health insurance program serving the aged, the disabled, the most vulnerable and the forgotten. The federal government helps all states pay for Medicaid, but Mississippi gets more federal dollars back than any other state for each $1 it spends on the program.

Georgia is not as desperate as Mississippi is for federal dollars it can acquire. Gov. Nathan Deal in his “State of the State” address last week declared again his opposition to expanding Medicaid. In a side issue, the Georgia Hospital Association favors a plan to extend a “bed tax” to help the state pay for its Medicaid program. The GHA says some small hospitals won’t survive without it. I can assure that every hospital in rural Georgia needs every tax dollar it can snare — as do most nursing homes.

Many Republican lawmakers do not want Georgia to expand Medicaid or extend any type of tax. Therefore, a major fight is brewing in the state Capitol on these and other health-care issues. At stake is decent health-care for all Georgians — and reasonable reimbursements to providers.

I suggest that rural Georgia should keep an eye on this showdown. If you are among those who want to see reductions on taxes — “provider fees,” bed taxes and or whatever else they are called — you might want to be careful what you wish for.

This battleground under the dome in Atlanta could make the Phoebe Putney/Palmyra skirmish resemble a child’s playground.

Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He is a former employee of both Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and The Albany Herald. He can be reached at macmarygordon@gmail.com.