To the editor,
We are appreciative of the many calls expressing concern and the requests to help, from our community regarding the story, “URMC in Jeopardy: Proposed changes to Certificate of Need (CON) worry local hospital,” published in The Times on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007.
As the Board of Directors, we have taken steps to ensure the financial viability of Upson Regional and have always been proud of the strong financial position of our hospital. Because of this strong bottom line, and the proactive way we have historically dealt with legislative reimbursement changes, we were awarded the Hometown Health Hospital of the Year. We are proud of the work the staff of Upson Regional has done to remain a financially sound business. We are committed to continue this business success, which is why CON is of such concern for us. Today, URMC is a financially sound organization with adequate funds to invest appropriately for the future, cover our debt, and make changes that may become necessary based upon the legislative session and the federal government.
Our worry over the fate of CON legislation is nothing new and something that the Board of Directors, Georgia Hospital Association, Hometown Health, and many other organizations that want to preserve healthcare in rural Georgia, have been working on for many months.
There are special interest groups who want to eliminate, or at least greatly weaken Georgia's Certificate of Need laws. The decrease in payment from Medicare, Medicaid and other government payers, along with the ever increasing cost of taking care of the uninsured makes the preservation of CON even more critical to the success of URMC and other rural hospitals in Georgia. This group threatens Georgia's fragile, rural healthcare system, the survival of some struggling hospitals and the ability of community hospitals to provide essential services to those who raised funds and made personal sacrifices to build their community hospitals.
CON is the key to the financial system that helps hospitals survive and deliver essential services. It enables “cross-subsidization.” That means profitable services - like outpatient surgery, and radiology - offset unprofitable services - like our ambulance service and emergency room. It also recognizes that hospitals must serve a sufficient number of commercially insured patients to help pay for service to Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patients. What this means to URMC is that 30% of our patients partially pay for the other 70% and funds the buildings said equipment to assure we deliver care rural Georgians deserve!
If CON is repealed or weakened, unneeded limited-service hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and imaging centers will open and drain full-service community hospital revenues. Hospitals' burden of mandated, unprofitable services will grow. One third of the state's hospitals already operate in the red. If CON is repealed or weakened, some will find it impossible to survive. Coupled with the CON threat, this year the federal government has also issued regulation through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agency that totally eliminates the funding hospitals have received in the past to help offset a small portion of caring for indigent patients. For URMC this has amounted to about 10 cents of every dollar it costs URMC to provide the care.
We have implored our legislators to represent us and send a strong message for our communities that CON must be protected for the sake of rural hospitals. Everyone in Atlanta is saying there will be “winners and losers:” Georgia will be the loser. Jobs will go away as businesses move out. Health will decrease and disabilities will increase because people can't get the care they need.
We ask you to become involved in protecting your access to healthcare in rural communities. Please call the legislative offices that represent you and let them know that you support the Certificate of Need. Ask them not to turn their backs on rural Georgia. Write the congressmen and women pushing this bill and let them know that rural Georgian's don't want to be the losers in this game they are playing with our healthcare.
Make no mistake, you are not immune, if you don't become involved and if CON is repealed or weakened, everyone that depends on rural healthcare loses!
Chairman of the URMC Board of Directors