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Health Costs

State health plan choices for 2015 draw praise

Many state employees and teachers will see no increase in their health insurance premiums next year under rates approved by a state agency’s board Thursday.

The State Health Benefit Plan members will have choices among plans offered by three health insurers, rather than a single insurance company this year.

The SHBP covers 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. With those numbers, the members of the health plan have proved to be a potent political force in this election year.

Sarah Lesley and her daughters joined a Capitol rally in February against the design of the state health plan.

Changes in the health plan that started Jan. 1 triggered fierce criticism from members, who complained about a lack of choice of insurance plans and higher health care costs. A Facebook group (Teachers Rally to Advocate for Georgia Insurance Choices, or TRAGIC) attracted thousands of members. Teachers and state employees rallied at the state Capitol, protesting the new health plan design.

TRAGIC members Thursday praised the wider health plan options.

“I’m glad to see we have a choice,” said a member of the group and a retired Marietta teacher, Julie Jarrett, after the Department of Community Health board vote Thursday. (Community Health oversees the state health plan.)

Many SHBP members had trouble understanding the 2014 Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) and how it worked, Jarrett added.

“I’m happy they’re going to educate all the members what the HRA really is,’’ Jarrett said Thursday. “They didn’t do that last year.” full story

Merger shows health IT still blooming in Georgia

Seven years ago, Baha Zeidan and two of his Valdosta colleagues entered a local competition for business plans, looking to build on their idea for a health care software startup.

At the time, the three young men, all graduates of Valdosta State University, were working at a medical lab company in the South Georgia city.

The group saw a need for better software for the health care industry, which still was bogged down with paper medical records.

Baha Zeidan

Baha Zeidan

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce awarded Zeidan, Douglas Swords and Daniel Henry the first prize of $15,000 for their business plan. The contest award also came with legal and other services.

“That was the start of the company,’’ Zeidan said Wednesday.

Azalea Health, launched in 2008 in Valdosta, “the Azalea City,” focused on providing electronic health records and billing software for physicians, along with software for laboratories.

On Tuesday, seven years after the contest award, the company announced a merger with Alpharetta-based simplifyMD, another private health IT firm. The merged company will have 70 employees and will have offices in Valdosta, Alpharetta and Macon as well as in Gainesville, Fla. full story

Plan for new trauma center not welcomed by all

Hospital chain HCA’s push to have its Augusta hospital designated as a trauma center has unsettled leaders in the state’s hospital industry.

A trauma center is a medical facility that’s specially equipped and staffed to treat seriously injured people. Georgia authorizes four levels of such centers, depending on their capabilities.

The critics of the HCA effort point to the trauma center growth in the Florida market. Such centers in the Sunshine State are charging a “response fee” – essentially an entry fee into the hospital – for each trauma case that averages more than $10,000 per patient, according to a Tampa Bay Times investigation in March.

Doctors Hospital

 

HCA’s Doctors Hospital said through a spokesman that if it receives trauma center status, it plans to set its trauma activation fee at about $9,900 for each such case at the Augusta facility. The HCA initiative in Georgia was first reported by Tom Corwin of the Augusta Chronicle.

The two current trauma centers in Augusta, Georgia Regents Medical Center and Trinity Hospital, said they charge activation fees of $1,949 and zero, respectively, for a comparable Level III trauma patient, the Chronicle reported.

Nashville-based HCA’s bid for trauma designation has drawn strong opposition from the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, an organization of nonprofit hospitals. full story

Albany hospital appeals key ruling on CON laws

Another regulatory twist has emerged in the FTC vs. Phoebe Putney saga.

Phoebe and its local Albany hospital authority said Thursday that they have appealed a state agency’s ruling that a certificate-of-need (CON) approval would not be necessary if they were ordered to sell a hospital they acquired in 2011.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

 

The acquisition of Palmyra Medical Center, which had been Phoebe’s only competitor in the Albany region, drew vigorous opposition from the Federal Trade Commission, which sued to stop the deal.

The FTC and Phoebe Putney reached a preliminary agreement last year to settle the lawsuit. The federal agency had been waiting for the Georgia Department of Community Health’s decision on the CON matter before it decided whether to finalize the settlement deal. full story

Two central Georgia hospitals look to team up

Two hospital systems in Middle Georgia announced Tuesday that they intend to form a partnership, in a move that reflects the constant consolidation of health care organizations.

The deal will not be a merger or acquisition, but it will have some financial aspect to it, said leaders of Milledgeville-based Oconee Regional Health Systems and Macon-based Central Georgia Health System.

Medical Center of Central Georgia

Medical Center of Central Georgia

Ninfa Saunders, CEO of Central Georgia and the Medical Center of Central Georgia, said the partnership’s primary goal is to improve the value of health care for patients, medical providers and insurers.

“This partnership will allow our health system to keep its identity intact while greatly enhancing the patient-focused health care we have provided our local residents for so many years,” Jean Aycock, CEO of Oconee Regional Health Systems and Oconee Regional Medical Center, said in a statement.

The nonprofit Milledgeville hospital, though, recently suffered a credit downgrade from Standard & Poor’s from B to CCC. full story

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