Originally created 01/13/04

Health board to vote on funding



ATLANTA - The Georgia Board of Community Health could vote as soon as Wednesday on a state rules change that would allow hospitals with a high concentration of indigent patients to cut in half their financial commitment to primary care.

The proposal would require such hospitals to spend only 7.5 percent of the funds they receive from the state's Indigent Care Trust Fund on primary care, down from the current 15 percent.

Hospital officials say they need the additional flexibility to help offset the effects of several years of cuts in funding from Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor and disabled.

Those reductions - which soon are likely to include tighter Medicaid eligibility requirements - are sending more poor patients to hospital emergency rooms for treatment they once received in nonhospital settings, said Joseph Parker, the president of the Georgia Hospital Association.

Health-care advocates argue that nonhospital settings are less expensive than emergency rooms for treating patients with such chronic diseases as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Yet community health centers and local health districts are among the agencies that would lose Indigent Care Trust Fund money if the proposed rule goes through, said Elsie Brown, the director of governmental affairs for the Georgia Association for Primary Health Care.

"Primary care keeps patients out of the emergency room," she said. "At a time when we need more money for primary care, not less, it's inconceivable that the board would be even considering cutting primary care funding from underserved communities."