A rural health care bill, HB 769, passed a House committee on Tuesday. The bill has received a lot of attention, but it’s missing a crucial component — Medicaid expansion. At this point, any health care bill that doesn’t include ending Georgia’s Medicaid blockade is putting a Band-Aid on a deadly, gaping wound.
Rep. Betty Price and other conservative lawmakers have created a symbolic bill that sounds good but does nothing to help rural communities. The proposed legislation would make it easier to build “micro-hospitals” in areas where larger hospitals already closed, allow grants for rural physicians so they can afford medical malpractice insurance, permit remote pharmacy orders from outside of Georgia, and require training for rural hospital and board and authority members.
But none of those things will change the fact that over fifteen percent of Georgia’s non-elderly population can’t afford health care coverage. In the South, twenty percent of adults report having poor health and/or issues involving hypertension, diabetes and obesity, yet many of these people make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.
Often the people in the worst health are in areas with the least access to health care. They still have to get treatment, so without Medicaid to reimburse the hospitals for care, hospitals are closing left and right.
Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, points out that in rural areas all over the South, “Those most in need of health services have the fewest options available, and we are closing rural hospitals. From a policy standpoint, we are going in the wrong direction.”
Giving physicians grants for malpractice insurance and building “micro-hospitals” won’t change the fact that patients cannot afford care. Georgia needs to expand Medicaid to see any real change in the rural hospital crisis.