Jimmy Lewis wanted a group of rural Georgia lawmakers to feel for themselves how he said rural hospital CEOs feel every day.
“I’m talking fast and I’m giving you a lot of information for a specific reason,” he told lawmakers at a recent meeting of the Ga. House Rural Development Council in Bainbridge. “When it’s over with, I want you to say ‘that was overwhelming.’”
Lewis, the CEO of a network of rural hospitals named Hometown Health, flew through slides with complicated payment formulas and national headlines about the tens of millions of people who could lose insurance under federal policy proposals.
"While you look at how to fix rural hospitals you need to see how overwhelming and just completely devastating the current situation is for a rural hospital simply to survive,” he said. "Sitting in on a hospital closure is worse than going to a community funeral,”
Eighty percent of rural hospital income comes from the government, Lewis said, and they’re still barely making it.
As the U.S. Senate debates health care, state lawmakers are trying to figure out what they can do.
Follow the example of states like Oklahoma and Texas to get more federal money, suggested Gregg Magers, who makes a living saving hospitals in states like Georgia that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He’s the interim CEO of Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge.
Oklahoma and Texas used something called a Medicaid waiver to get more federal health care dollars through the ACA.
A waiver in Georgia could boost rural hospitals, and get more people health care coverage, Magers said.
Republican state Rep. Jay Powell, co-chair of the House Rural Development Council, said Georgia should replicate what's worked in other states.
“The health care issue, it’s probably overwhelming as anything we’ve heard about,” Powell said. “There's no point in reinventing the wheel.”
For at least a year, the state's top politicians have talked about a Medicaid waiver, Powell brought it up again at the Bainbridge meeting, saying Georgia just can't sit and wait for Congress to act on health care.
“They don't know what they want to do,” he said. “We can't wait for them. I mean hopefully they'll do something that makes sense, but if we wait for them we're going to lose another eight hospitals so we can't wait for them."
Republican lawmakers have said their former colleague, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, would support a Medicaid waiver for Georgia.