GEORGIA: Barnes Launches Managed Care Attack in Address
Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) yesterday used his first State of the State address to outline plans to rein in the managed care industry, create a patients' bill of rights for Georgians and consolidate several state health agencies. The Macon Telegraph reports that Barnes pledged to merge the agencies responsible for Medicaid, hospital oversight and state employee health benefits into a single Department of Community Health (Badertscher, 1/28).
Drawing the Line
In his speech, Barnes vowed to declare war on the "worst excesses" of managed care and insurance lobbyists, the Augusta Chronicle reports. Barnes said, "The time has come to draw a line in the sand. A line that, for the first time in this state, clearly defines a patient's bill of rights. A line that puts the HMOs on notice. A line that clearly tells insurance lobbyists that we will honor every Georgian's right to choose his or her own doctor," he said. Barnes plans to back legislation allowing patients to sue their HMOs and choose out-of-network physicians. He resolved to push HMOs to create review panels for patients seeking to appeal medical coverage decisions, and he aims to create a "lawyer-run consumer office for insurance" (Salzer, 1/28). Barnes urged lawmakers to ignore insurance lobbyists' warnings that his initiatives would only drive costs skyward. Urging legislators "not to believe them," Barnes said, "Watch those eel-skinned briefcases and alligator shoes. It's their job to put a wedge between us and what the people want and deserve."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that many Republican leaders sat "stoically as the governor outlined his plans" to take on managed care (Pruitt, 1/28). Some "insurance lobbyists were stunned by the ferocity" of Barnes' attack and several legislators, as expected, warned that his initiatives would drive up costs. "My response is: Do what you want, just show me the money," said James Purcell, a lobbyist for the Georgia Managed Care Association. House Speaker Tom Murphy (D) applauded Barnes' commitment, but predicted that premiums would climb for HMO enrollees given more choice. Bert Fridlin, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that small businesses in Georgia have been increasingly concerned with rising health care costs. The Augusta Chronicle reports that Georgians saw an increase in costs this year, with HMO premiums jumping from 5% to 10%. "If things are done to create additional costs in the system, it will create problems," Fridlin warned (1/28).