Grady Hospital faces massive budget cuts

By Stan Washington | 11/25/2013, 9:25 a.m.
Grady could possibly lose $25 million from Fulton County and an undetermined amount from DeKalb County. This year Fulton County contribution $50 million to Grady’s budget while DeKalb contributed $11.2 million.

Grady Memorial Hospital next year could be facing millions in budget cuts which would adversely affect its most vulnerable clientele. The safety-net hospital for metro Atlanta and most of north Georgia could lose up to $100 million in reduced funding from Fulton County, the state and federal.

“It’s unfortunate that the last people who must bear the brunt of budget deficits are the people who need health care the most,” Grady CEO John Haupert said during an interview with The Atlanta Voice.

The cuts would curtail or eliminate programs geared towards the poor, the mentally-ill, seniors, the unemployed and other such groups, Haupert said.

The potential budget deficits can be blamed on the Affordable Care Act and the Great Recession. There is a provision in the Affordable Care Act which requires a federal reduction in funds to hospitals and for the states to expand their Medicaid programs.

But many states including Georgia did not expand their programs. Gov. Nathan Deal said the state could not afford to do.

Although, he is not happy the state’s program won’t be expanded, Haupert said the governor has to make that kind of decision on whether to expand or not.

“The best thing for our patients is for Medicaid to expand and for our patients to have insurance,” he said. “When patients acquire insurance they become empowered to really do something about their health. When they don’t have insurance they are really afraid of the system and being rejected by the system.”

Grady serves over 30,000 patients who would be eligible for Medicaid if the state would expand its program, Haupert said.

Grady could possibly lose $25 million from Fulton County and an undetermined amount from DeKalb County. This year Fulton County contribution $50 million to Grady’s budget while DeKalb contributed $11.2 million.

The Great Recession collapsed the housing market in Fulton which has led to a contribution of $41.3 million to Grady in the 2014 proposed budget. Although it’s the largest reduction it’s not the only one marked for a reduction in Fulton’s $569 million budget. Also slated for cuts are $1.5 million for the arts council, $3.8 million for the Sheriff’s Department, $4 million for human services and $7.3 million for libraries.

Add to the proposed $25 million cut a $45 million cut from federal funding plus $24 million reduction in Medicaid funds and you could possibly have Grady smack dead back into another financial crisis. But those who would be feeling the impact the most would be its less privileged clients.

Fortunately, Grady has political allies like the Fulton County Commission and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Grady officials along with other big safety net hospitals have been in Washington lobbying to get the provision of Affordable Care Act that reduces federal funding. Rep. Lewis even introduced legislation for the change. “A lot of people have backed it, but we’re not sure if it will get a lot of momentum, but we don’t have a fix for that yet,” he said.

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and other commissioners are ardent supporters of Grady. Eaves said they are looking for ways to maintain Grady’s current level funding.

“There’s a strong possibility that an alternative revenue source will be generated to make sure that cut does not occur,” Eaves told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Once all of the issues have been worked out with the Affordable Care Act, Haupert said the law will have more positive aspects than negative ones. In its present state, Haupert said he likes that the law provides for coverage despite of pre-existing conditions, parents can keep their children on their policies until they are 26 and it gives tax credits for low income people to buy insurance.

“The thing I don’t like is that in some parts of the country and in the state where there is less competition among the insurance plans we are seeing high rates that people are expected to pay and even with the tax credits they aren’t going to be able to pay those rates,” he said.