The new guv’s health care challenges

You are newly elected, basking in applause and congratulations. Then you sit down in the governor’s chair and confront a stack of major problems, mounting by the minute.

The economy, of course, is the biggest challenge for Nathan Deal when he takes office in January. But health care is not far behind.

The first budget contemplates a huge cut for doctors and other health care providers in the state Medicaid program, which is facing a possible $600 million deficit in fiscal 2012. Physicians and other health care providers (not hospitals) may receive a substantial cut in the payments that Medicaid gives for their services.

Already, Medicaid pays providers less than what Medicare pays, and much less than what they get for treating patients who have private insurance.

Other major health care problems await. To make ends meet, the State Health Benefit Plan, which covers more than 600,000 state employees, retirees and dependents, will raise premiums an average of 10 percent for employees. Those state workers, including teachers, have already seen their pay reduced because of the poor economy.

The public health system, long strained from lack of financial resources, also faces a reduction in state funds. Georgia’s trauma care network remains underfunded, and the state’s voters have just rejected a $10 tag fee to raise revenues for it.

And you may have already heard: Health care reform is here. There are implementation and legal tangles to resolve. Meanwhile, the percentage of people in Georgia who have no health insurance rose to 20.5 percent in 2009, up from 17.8 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many Georgia businesses have suffered through double-digit percentage increases in their health insurance programs. And those are companies that can afford coverage. Many firms don’t offer insurance.

So the new governor will preside over plenty of thorny issues in health care. How he deals with them will affect businesses, medical professionals and millions of Georgia consumers. It shapes up as a huge challenge for the 2011 Georgia General Assembly and the rest of Deal’s term.