Medicaid funding in danger
GMC, Emory Eastside may lose $6M

LAWRENCEVILLE - The state's budget crisis could leave hospital budgets bloody this year, as leaders debate Medicaid funding.

A version of the 2010 state budget, which would begin in July of this year, proposed a 10 percent cut to Medicaid funding. That could mean the loss of nearly $5 million for Gwinnett Medical Center's Lawrenceville and Duluth campuses and another $1 million for Emory Eastside Hospital in Snellville.

While House leaders plugged that funding gap, using funds from President Barack Obama's stimulus package, lobbyists and leaders are still concerned about the final budgeted amount.

"This whole thing is still in play," Kevin Bloye of the Georgia Hospital Association said. "We maintain that if the cuts go through, it'll have drastic implications on the health care delivery in the state."

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who has served as an advocate for health care issues in the legislature, said the House's budget version doesn't anticipate the growth of Medicaid, which she said could boom in an economy with unemployment at nearly 10 percent.

"They need to be concerned about Medicaid because there just isn't enough money going around," she said, adding that the long-awaited trauma network funding issue hasn't been solved this legislative session. "We know our numbers are going to continue to grow because unemployment has gone up. We know there is going to be more as more and more people are laid off. ... But it's very complicated."

Bloye said Medicaid cuts could push hospitals in dire financial situations to closure, with the small rural areas most vulnerable.

Tommy McBride of Gwinnett Medical Center said the local hospital is in good financial shape.

With more than $500 million in operating revenue in the 2009 budget, the $5 million cut doesn't seem like much, but McBride pointed out that the hospital only anticipates generating 3.6 percent excess revenue after expenses. The cuts could shave that by a quarter and pose the risk of running into the red.

McBride said leaders are working on the new 2010 budget, which will take effect in July. While more volume growth in revenues is expected as the county grows, McBride said the hospital will have to grapple with inflation as well as the cuts from the government.

Gwinnett County's government has already reduced the amount of money provided for the care of indigent patients by 10 percent, giving $450,000 instead of the annual $500,000 amount.

"It's hard to make it up on the other side," McBride said, adding that the hospital is facing the same cost pressures as any other business with the expense of labor costs, supplies and more.