Health care big issue for House committee during budget hearingsBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
It was a long week of budget hearings at the Georgia State Capitol for members of the House and Senate appropriations committees.
For four days, heads of state agencies appeared before the joint meeting of the committees to talk about their agencies and present their budget proposals for the year.
The state’s health care budget, including Medicaid, Medicare and Peachcare for Kids, totals $11.9 billion, which includes federal matching funds.
Health-care spending is rising.
On a national level, healthcare spending was 12.5 percent of gross national product in 1990. It was 13.8 percent in 2000 and 17.9 percent in 2011.
Medicaid rolls have grown steadily as well. Nationally, Smith said, there were 4 million enrollees when the program began in 1966. There were 34 million in 2000 and 54 million in 2010. It’s projected there will be 85 million enrollees in 2020.
On the state level, there were 947,054 enrollees in 2000 and 1,456,520 in 2009. That number is expected to jump to 1,818,829 in 2019.
The Medicaid budget includes not just “low income Medicaid,” which is what most people think of when they think of the program, but also the “aged, blind and disabled” program and PeachCare for Kids, Smith said.
In 2000, Medicaid took up 10.2 percent of state revenue. In 2009, it was 15.3 percent. It’s estimated to be 17.1 percent of state revenues in 2019, “and we’ve not even gotten to all the requirements that are coming out of Obamacare,” Smith said.
The rising health-care spending eats into the budget, “so that cuts into education, it cuts into public safety, it cuts into transportation,” Smith said.
And that’s not just for Georgia, it’s all over the country.
There was one good thing Smith heard in the proposal from the Department of Community Health.
It was about the new Georgia Map 2 Care program, at www.gamap2care.info .
It’s a new interactive website, built off Google Maps, that shows all manner of health-care facilities in a searchable format.
“It has markers all over the state — what the hospital is, what the speciality is, what the capacity is,” Smith said. “If you want to find the hospitals, search for personal care homes, compare home health agency service areas [it will do that],” she said.
It shows facilities as diverse as drug treatment centers, dialysis clinics, and birthing centers.
“It is the first blending of health care info with a Google map,” Smith said. DCH Commissioner David Cook “said that they have been contacted by Google to see what in the world they have created,” she said.
“You can search more than 7,000 licensed facilities and services in Georgia. You can see details about providers and services. You can view the facilities in map, satellite and street views; you can select and compare,” Smith said.
Smith also touched on a few other highlights from the budget hearings.
A big shift is coming for the colleges and universities under the state Board of Regents. The funding for those schools is going to transition from being based on total enrollment to being based on graduation rates. “That is a big dynamic shift that should help get that situation under control — their budget has been going so high,” Smith said.
“They also spent a little bit of time talking about their economic development roll,” she said.
Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, talked about how well Georgia competes with other states. However, he said Georgia needs to try and market itself like several other states do, such as North Carolina with its Research Triangle.
“He said we need to find a way to market what we have — we have everything these areas have. They’ve just got the marketing process,” Smith said.
Cummiskey added that no state can match Georgia’s Quick Start program, which helps train employees for new businesses.
Smith is glad to see $500,000 in the governor’s budget proposal for continuing the regional water councils.
The water council process is good, but it is still in its infancy. The funding “is a strong statement that we need them. We need what they are doing, and I’m just glad that it got funded,” said Smith, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
Lastly, she is glad to see the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund didn’t have to take the 3 percent cuts other state agencies have suffered.
“Times are still tough but that is a strong message that it is being funded. That’s important,” she said.