Originally created 01/20/05

Caring for indigent is No. 1 topic

LAKE OCONEE VILLAGE, Ga. - Inside the swanky Ritz-Carlton Lodge, near the upscale Reynolds Plantation community, much of the discussion Wednesday was about indigent care.

As the board of directors of MCG Health Inc. met before touring its gleaming new physician office building nearby, there was much talk of problems with caring for the poor and uninsured. Three Georgia hospitals unhappy about a reduction in their indigent care money held up payments of much-needed funds, CEO Don Snell said.

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon were set to get a cut of $25 million in Indigent Care Trust Fund money, Mr. Snell said. The state had changed the way the calculations are made and there were some big gains and reductions, said Robert Taylor, the chief financial officer for University Hospital.

"There were winners and losers," he said, with University slated to lose $1.4 million or about 20 percent.

When the three hospitals did not make their year-end money transfers, the state was unable to draw down a total of $419 million. The state has since been talking to the hospitals and has come up with an adjustment of limiting gains and losses to no more than 15 percent for each hospital.

Georgia will be able to draw down and distribute about $290 million Monday, said Julie Kerlin, the spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health, which oversees the program.

"We had very productive conversations with those three hospitals and were able to come up with an interim resolution that will now allow us to disperse a substantial portion of the funds," Community Health Commissioner Tim Burgess said in a statement. The rest of the funds will be held back pending audits of the hospital reports.

MCG Health, which had been expecting about $14 million, now expects to get about $11.9 million, spokeswoman Deborah Humphrey said.

Concerned about what it said was a rapid increase in uninsured care, MCG Health instituted policies last year to curb uncompensated care, including limiting non-emergency outpatient visits to those who agree to a payment plan, with sliding scale fees, or those the chief medical officer says need to be seen.

Some discounts are available for those admitted to the hospital but not for those in the outpatient clinics, Ms. Humphrey said.

The health system has budgeted for $60 million worth of indigent care this year. After the first six months of its fiscal year, outpatient clinic visits had declined by 26,000 from the previous year, due in part to the policies, Chief Financial Officer Tom Kelly said.

After the meeting, board members toured the new 8,000-square-foot MCG Medical Associates Lake Oconee Village clinic.

The area has been booming in the past six or seven years as an alternative to the Atlanta area but had been suffering from a lack of medical services, said Bobby Murray, the broker/owner of Coldwell Banker Lake Oconee Realty.

"That was really a big hang-up there for awhile, especially for your older retirement people," he said. "All the services you need are pretty much here right now."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.


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