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WellStar expanding reach in LaGrange hospital deal

Marietta-based WellStar is planning to add another hospital system to its fold, one that’s outside its current geographical sweet spot.

West Georgia Health in LaGrange announced Tuesday that it has signed a letter of intent to join WellStar Health System, which dominates the northwest Atlanta suburbs.

West Georgia Health in LaGrange

West Georgia Health in LaGrange

The CEO of West Georgia, Jerry Fulks, cited the changes rampant in health care payments — many of which were ignited by the Affordable Care Act — for his system’s yearlong pursuit of a partner.

West Georgia Medical Center would become the sixth hospital in the nonprofit WellStar system, though it’s the first one that’s not in Atlanta’s suburbs.

Meanwhile, WellStar is still working on a potential blockbuster merger with Emory Healthcare in metro Atlanta.

Fulks said Tuesday that West Georgia Health, the parent of the medical center, was seeking a partner with at least $1 billion in revenues, which WellStar surpasses. “We wanted an organization that’s focused on physicians and employees,’’ Fulks added.   full story

Georgia nursing homes fairly low in quality report

Nearly half of Georgia nursing homes have relatively low ratings  — either 1 or 2 stars out of a possible 5, according to a report analyzing quality scores for these facilities nationally.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, using the quality scores from the “Nursing Home Compare’’ website of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, found that Texas has the worst record. Among Texas nursing homes, 51 percent received a 1 or 2 rating.

nhomesThe Lone Star State’s ratings were followed by Louisiana, with 49 percent of nursing homes with a 1 or 2, and then Georgia, Oklahoma and West Virginia at 46 percent, said the report, released last week.

The study found that nationally, 36 percent of nursing homes certified by Medicare or Medicaid have overall ratings of 1 or 2 stars.

A larger share of nursing homes — 45 percent — have overall ratings of 4 or 5 stars. Georgia’s percentage of 4 or 5 star facilities, however, is 32 percent.

“Once again Georgia is at the bottom of the barrel on quality, but there is no simple solution,’’ said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, when asked Monday by GHN to comment on the report. full story

Governor vetoes agency for older Georgians

As expected, Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have created a separate state agency devoted to older Georgians.

House Bill 86 had passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly session.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol BuildingIt would have moved the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services. The new agency, the Adult and Aging Services Agency, would have been attached to the Department of Community Health.

Last week, Georgia Health News reported that the main sponsor of House Bill 86, along with health care experts, said they had been told a veto was coming.

The Aging Services bill was among 11 pieces of legislation vetoed by the governor. full story

Macon hospital to pay $20 million in billing case

A Macon hospital has agreed to pay $20 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by overcharging Medicare on patient admissions.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia said that from 2004 to 2008, the Medical Center of Central Georgia billed Medicare for inpatient services when the billing should have been for less costly outpatient or observation services.

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The Macon facility, with about 630 beds, is the second-largest hospital in Georgia. It’s now known as Medical Center, Navicent Health.

“We agreed to settle to avoid costly litigation,’’ Judy Ware, chief compliance officer with Navicent Health, said Monday. full story

Hospitals get financial rewards . . . or do they?

A majority of Georgia hospitals will get performance bonuses from Medicare for their quality of care, federal data show.

The 59 percent of Georgia hospitals getting the financial reward exceeds the national average of 55 percent, according to a Kaiser Health News article. The bonuses come from measurements that include patient satisfaction, lower death rates and how much patients cost Medicare.

Healthcare CostMeanwhile, 40 percent of the Georgia hospitals subject to the measurements are being penalized for quality-of-care problems, while 1 percent broke even in the Medicare quality category.

An official with the Georgia Hospital Association, when asked by GHN to comment on the bonuses Thursday, said, “We are proud of the fact that of the 10 states with the most hospitals assessed in the study, Georgia leads them all with 59 percent of its 99 hospitals receiving the quality bonus.”

“The Georgia hospital community still has a lot of work to do make great care even safer, but these numbers demonstrate that we are moving in the right direction,’’ said Kevin Bloye, a Georgia Hospital Association vice president.

Kaiser Health News reported that many of the bonuses nationally will be offset by hospital penalties that the government has also established as a part of the Affordable Care Act.

Fewer than 800 of the 1,700 hospitals that earned these bonuses nationally will actually receive extra money, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. full story

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