Hospitals fighting state budget cuts

By Billy Corriher

With Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget for the next fiscal year cutting services for Medicaid recipients and other health care programs, the health care industry is fighting to keep the programs in tact.

Edward Bonn, CEO of Southern Regional Health System in Riverdale, told local state legislators that Medicaid accounts for 18.2 percent of the hospital's revenue. He added that the hospital only has a 1 percent operating margin, meaning any cuts in revenue would be tough to take.

Perdue's budget would stop or curtail services for some 84,000 of the state's 1.2 million Medicaid recipients, including 27,000 children and pregnant women and 14,500 people who need artificial limbs or orthotic devices.

Rick Smith, spokesman for Southern Regional, said a reduction in Medicaid revenue would be particularly hard for the hospital to absorb, but would not affect its quality of care.

"We're already strapped for cash," he said. "It's going to make it more difficult to provide a high level of care."

But Smith said the medical industry is fighting the cuts in Medicaid enrollment.

"This is a concern across the state," he said. "The cuts are going to hurt not only Southern Regional, but all of Georgia."

Rep. Ron Dodson, who sits on the board of directors at Southern Regional and is a member of the health and human services committee, said he was concerned about the affects the cuts would have on hospitals.

"The hospitals are being chipped away from all angles," he said. "When you're talking millions of dollars, you're taking away some hospitals' option to stay open."

Smith said that in case Perdue's budget is approved, hospitals are preparing for a "worst case scenario." He said the hospital might have to consider limiting the service it provides to people who can't pay for care.

"We may have to look at limiting that indigent care to our primary service area," Smith said. "It's unfortunate, but all the hospitals may have to look at doing those same things."

Bonn also express concerns about cuts in funding for prenatal care, which he said will actually cost the state more in the long run because the babies are more likely to develop health problems later.

"Once these babies don't get prenatal care? they're gonna be in our system for years," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.