For the fourth time in two years, a rural hospital in Georgia is permanently closing its doors. The latest is Lower Oconee Community Hospital in southeast Georgia, which had financial problems it could not overcome.
The 25-bed “critical access” hospital in Glenwood, in Wheeler County, is looking to restructure, its CEO said in a statement. […]Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in Georgia, said Thursday that Lower Oconee suffered from high rates of unemployed and uninsured patients, coupled with heavy demands on staff time to handle claims processing from multiple insurance programs.
If local residents face a medical emergency, they’ll now have to travel an additional 30 miles for care.
The Macon Telegraph noted some of the possible solutions to the problem, including the most obvious: Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would “help rural hospitals by turning many of their uninsured patients into paying patients.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and the state legislature’s Republican majority have ruled out the possibility, “citing the cost to the state.” Indeed, just this week, GOP policymakers took steps to make approval of Medicaid expansion even more difficult, just in case Deal loses his re-election bid.
The real-world effects of such partisan obstinacy aren’t pretty. Indeed, the idea that Georgia won’t consider the policy because of “the cost to the state” is very hard to understand.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 100% of the costs of Medicaid expansion through 2016, and then 90% going forward. That can fairly be described as an amazing deal for states, a fact that even many conservative Republican governors – Arizona’s Jan Brewer, Ohio’s John Kasich, et al – decided they couldn’t responsibly turn down.
So what’s Deal’s excuse, rejecting the policy even as his state sees rural hospitals closing their doors? He doesn’t seem to have one.
HomeTown Health’s Jimmy Lewis added this week that if the state doesn’t pursue a solution, the result will be a “Third World nation” level of medical care in rural Georgia.
I‘ve seen a couple of conservative media outlets argue this week that “Obamacare” is responsible for these hospital closings. The right’s complaints are, if nothing else, ironic – implementation of the Affordable Care Act would offer these struggling communities a life preserver.