Report: Two-thirds of Ga. counties are medically underserved

[private]Nearly two out of every three Georgia counties fall below the statewide average in access to medical care, measured either in terms of hospital beds or healthcare professionals, according to a report compiled by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI).

The GBPI report says that 50 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no hospital beds while another 18 counties have less than one available hospital bed per 1,000 residents.

“Two-thirds of all counties in Georgia fare worse than the statewide average for hospital beds per 1,000 residents,” said the report produced by Tim Sweeney, former healthcare policy adviser for GBPI.

The report said that 141 of the state’s 159 counties (89 percent) are below the statewide average for doctors per 100,000 residents, while 129 of 159 offer fewer primary care physicians than the average.

“More than 900,000 Georgians live in counties without a hospital,” the GBPI report said. “More than 2 million additional Georgians live in counties with one or fewer hospital beds per 1,000 residents.”

The hospital bed shortage in Georgia has been worsening in recent years with five rural hospitals shutting down since 2013 — the most recent closure was the North Georgia Medical Center in Gilmer County.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a study committee in 2014 to review the problems of Georgia’s financially troubled rural hospitals, but the committee recommended only minor policy changes.  It did not recommend that Georgia accept the $3 billion per year in federal funding for Medicaid expansion that would be available through the Affordable Care Act.

The General Assembly this year passed a tax credit program that could potentially provide $180 million per year over a three-year period for non-profit hospitals, but that new program has not been fully implemented yet.

The GBPI report recommended that state officials accept the federal funding for Medicaid expansion, saying that “the new federal investment that would come to Georgia would have a significant economic impact on local communities and create new jobs within the health care industry.”

The report also recommended that Georgia provide more financial incentives “to motivate physicians to practice in rural communities by helping pay medical education debt” and ease some of the scope of practice restrictions “to expand the ability of Georgia’s nurse practitioners to treat patients.”

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: GBPI , hospital bed availability , Medicaid expansion , physician shortage