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Hospitals facing financial strain

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Shrinking reimbursements, greater numbers of uninsured that are also much sicker, and more people on Medicaid could combine next year to place Augusta hospitals and facilities across the nation under much greater strain, perhaps leading to more consolidations of physicians and hospitals, Augusta leaders said. Add to that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform and a presidential election year and 2012 could be the beginning of an enormous shake-up in health care, officials said.

University Hospital, for instance, expects to see indigent costs in 2012 around $21 million or effectively double its costs from 2010, CEO Jim Davis said. Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics is also counting on an increase and, because of the economic situation in Georgia, is also expecting to see more people on Medicaid, which adds to the financial strain, said David Hefner, executive vice president for clinical affairs at Georgia Health Sciences University.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Republicans have vowed to overturn it.

“Unwinding that is going to be very, very difficult,” Davis said. GHSU also might find education and research funding more difficult to get with financial pressures on the state and federal government, Hefner said. The strain could force more consolidation, not only among hospitals and physicians but payers as well. University is in the throes of acquiring McDuffie Regional Medical Center, which could be approved next year. Some large insurance companies are already buying health systems and large groups of physicians, Hefner said. All of this could be the beginning of a “fundamental retooling” of health care over the next 15-20 years, he said.

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