What a Long Month it’s Been for Healthcare in Georgia

While October isn’t quite over, I think it’s safe to say it’s already been a long and unusual month as far as healthcare in Georgia is concerned. Yes, the federally run health insurance exchange opened to enormous demand, and even more finger pointing. More on that in a minute.

What I’d really like to highlight is the fact that Georgia’s health information exchange – formally know as the Georgia Health Information Network (GaHIN) – went live at the beginning of the month thanks to the hard work of folks at the Georgia Department of Community Health. (You can read more about the mission and goals of GaHIN here.)

What does this mean for patients? Better, more streamlined communication between their healthcare providers, which should lead to a reduction in duplicate testing, better care outcomes and patient satisfaction, and lower healthcare costs all around. True interoperability – a long word that belies the simple goal of better digital communication between healthcare facilities that use different IT systems – is now within reach for Georgia’s hospitals, physician offices, payers and government services like Medicaid.

Now, back to that other HIE …
Train wreck. Disaster. Troubled. Serious Problems. These are all apt descriptions the media has used to describe the Healthcare.gov roll out. They should not, however, belittle the fact that demand for insurance coverage is there, and will serve a huge need once the bugs are fixed and visitors to the site can enroll with ease.

Many Georgians have attempted to enroll, as the media has documented so thoroughly. One Georgia man made headlines for getting through on the first day, though some doubt his claim. A recent WABE story posits that more and more are making it through incredibly long wait times to access the site and enroll, though no firm figures have been made available.

It’s an unfortunate situation all around. It seems the very same people that should benefit from Georgia’s health information exchange won’t get a chance to see those benefits until the health insurance exchange is running efficiently. Hopefully, they won’t give up all together, and instead rely on good old paper or the phone to apply for benefits.

Moving on to the Business Perspective
Health insurance exchange was a big topic of conversation at the Cobb Chamber’s recent Health Care Summit. A room full of business owners convened on the Cobb Galleria to learn more about their insurance coverage responsibilities in light of the Affordable Care Act and health insurance exchange. There wasn’t much love for either amongst audience members or speakers, including Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and State Attorney General Sam Olens. Most have accepted their fate – finally – and now are working from the “Whether you Like it or Not” point of view.

I was dismayed by the lack of optimism on the part of several government and business representatives who spoke at the event, especially given the fact that our state has refused Medicaid expansion and yet so many citizens need coverage. According to a recent AJC article, Georgia has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation – 1.9 million residents, or about 19%, including 300,000 children. I hope that our elected officials and business leaders will stop wringing their hands and start helping Georgians achieve greater access to health insurance and care. There are so many who need it.

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