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Rural health panel offers plan to cut ER use

A special state panel created by Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a pilot program that would use telemedicine and other techniques to bolster rural health care in Georgia.

The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee report, released Monday, supports a “hub and spoke’’ model to relieve the burden on rural hospital emergency rooms. It would use telemedicine-equipped ambulances to facilitate remote diagnoses of patients in rural areas.

clipboardTelemedicine basically is the transmission of video and digital vital signs of a patient to a physician at another location who can evaluate that information for a diagnosis. Georgia has been a pioneer in this field.

The four pilot sites would be based in hospitals that serve different rural regions of the state: Union General in Blairsville, Appling HealthCare in Baxley, Crisp Regional in Cordele and Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro.

The report of the Rural Hospital Stabilization committee makes no mention of the possibility of Medicaid expansion in the state, which is opposed by Deal and the Republican legislative leadership due to cost concerns. full story

State: Won’t meet Justice Department deadline

Georgia health officials acknowledge that they won’t meet a June 30 deadline — agreed to with the federal government — for moving people with developmental disabilities out of state-run hospitals.

Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said at an agency board meeting Thursday that the state will move people from hospitals as soon as community services of sufficient quality are available.

Frank Berry

Frank Berry

For now, he said, 260 Georgians with disabilities remain in state hospitals.

Georgia, under its five-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreed to end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to state psychiatric hospitals. It also promised in the 2010 pact that patients with disabilities already in those hospitals would be moved to more appropriate settings by July 2015.

“We will not meet the deadline,’’ Berry said Thursday. full story

Exchange enrollment soars past half a million

Powered by a late surge, Georgia’s enrollment in the 2015 health insurance exchange easily surpassed the half-million mark.

Federal officials said Wednesday that 536,929 Georgians selected a plan or were automatically re-enrolled in the state exchange. The Affordable Care Act provides for exchanges in all 50 states, and this is their second year of operation.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

Open enrollment ended Sunday. The figures show that Georgia enrollment accelerated in the final two weeks, with more than 60,000 signing up. As of Feb. 6, 468,464 had enrolled in coverage in Georgia.

This year’s enrollment number far outpaces last year’s Georgia exchange total of 316,543, and exceeded many projections for the state.

Nationwide, about 11.4 million Americans selected exchange, or marketplace, plans or were automatically re-enrolled, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced. That was 10 percent more than expected, HHS said Wednesday. full story

Proposed agency for seniors clears House panel

More than a million Georgians  — or roughly 1 out of 10 people in the state — are 65 or older.

Rep. Tommy Benton

Rep. Tommy Benton

And over the next 30 years, Georgia is facing an estimated 143% increase in its senior population.

With this aging trend looming, the General Assembly will consider a bill that would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services and create a new state agency.

House Bill 86, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), took its first step toward passage Monday, winning unanimous approval from the House Human Relations and Aging Committee.  full story

Commentary: We need new health care equation

Most people agree that Georgia has serious health care challenges.

Kelly McCutchen

Kelly McCutchen

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians lack health insurance. Many of the state’s hospitals are in financial crisis. Medical costs are high.

Kelly McCutchen has an idea for a solution.

In a new GHN Commentary, McCutchen, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, proposes that we convert the funds we spend subsidizing the care of the uninsured (after the fact) into vouchers or refundable tax credits.

“Low-income individuals could use these funds to buy into an employer’s plan or purchase private insurance,’’ writes McCutchen, adding that unused funds “should follow the people to where they get their care: the safety net providers in each community.”

Here’s a link to his Commentary.


Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please email Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at

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