The U.S. health care system is hurtling toward big changes, propelled in part by the Affordable Care Act. Separate gatherings in Atlanta on Tuesday...

The U.S. health care system is hurtling toward big changes, propelled in part by the Affordable Care Act.

Separate gatherings in Atlanta on Tuesday spotlighted the 2010 law’s impact in two very different areas: the problem of uninsured children, and the advance of health information technology.

A Georgetown University health policy researcher told a group of  consumer advocates and health experts that Georgia has a higher rate of uninsured children than the national average.

And Georgia’s rate of 9.5 percent of kids without health insurance is higher than those of all neighboring Southeastern states except Florida, whose rate is 11.9 percent, said Joan Alker, co-executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families.

Her talk was sponsored by the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children.

Despite the current problems, Georgia’s rate of uninsured children is declining, Alker said. “The state is going in the right direction.’’

The health reform law could further lower the rate, even if the state government — as now seems likely — declines to expand its Medicaid program.

That’s because ACA provisions streamline the enrollment processes, and because the law’s new insurance exchange process will cause some people already eligible for Medicaid, but not now enrolled, to join the government program.

Many of these people are children, Alker noted.

The projected increase in Medicaid enrollees is known as the ‘‘woodwork’’ or ‘‘welcome mat’’ effect, depending on one’s point of view toward the health reform law.

Georgia’s rate of uninsured children could drop further still if the state were to expand its Medicaid program. Gov. Nathan Deal has said he opposes expansion as it’s currently outlined because he feels it would ultimately be too costly.

Medicaid in Georgia faces a $400 million shortfall, which could grow even bigger if the state Legislature does not renew its provider fee arrangement, also known as the “bed tax.’’

That financial mechanism is up for renewal in 2013, but is expected to be opposed by anti-tax activists, a powerful political force in the state.

Also Tuesday, the effect of the presidential election and the ACA on the world of health care data was discussed at the 2012 Health IT Leadership Summit, held in Atlanta.

The reform law has been controversial from the start, but the re-election of President Barack Obama effectively ended Republicans’ hopes of repealing it.

Now it’s full speed ahead for the ACA, a panel of experts told industry professionals at the summit.

The health IT industry received a huge boost even before the health law was passed, when the stimulus legislation set up financial incentives for medical providers to adopt electronic health records.

Providers who demonstrate “meaningful use” of certified electronic health record systems can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments.

The goal of meaningful use is to promote the spread of electronic health records to improve health care in the U.S.

These incentives were a ‘‘shot in the arm’’ for the health IT world, said Stephanie Jamison of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), one of the panelists.

The ACA’s effect on record-keeping has not been nearly as controversial as some of its other provisions. “Health IT has been historically bipartisan,’’ Jamison said.

The drive for better data on medical procedures and quality of care ‘‘isn’t going to go away,’’ she said.

David Merritt, a managing director at Leavitt Partners, said that with the ACA’s emphasis on reporting on the quality of care, “it will be impossible to keep up with a paper record.’’

That data are needed to understand what care works best, he said.

The private market, and not just government programs, will spark the change toward a new payment system that will emphasize the value of medical procedures, not the volume of these services, said Merritt, formerly the CEO of Newt Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation.

The push for health information technology should also boost the metro Atlanta economy.

The area is known as a hotbed for health IT.

Atlanta leads the nation among metro areas in the number of health IT companies, experts say. More than 100 companies are involved in health IT in the metro area, with total employment exceeding 10,000.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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