EDITORIAL: Difficult choices still abound in the budget process

June 11, 2014 

Budget time at the county has always been a testy one. Before consolidation, organizations seeking funding were brought in one by one to explain why they needed public money. It was a tough, cordial atmosphere, but it gave commissioners the opportunity for dialogue with the recipients.

However there has always been one organization that goes into the budget process, not with its hands out, but with a bill for services ($18.6 million) already rendered. Unlike Georgia Power or the Macon Water Authority that have the ability to shut off services for nonpayment, The Medical Center of Central Georgia can’t close its doors to indigent patients who need medical care.

Just in case the commissioners missed it, the Medical Center is in the midst of transformation, and the days of old when it could cost-shift to cover indigent care are over. The recent back-and-forth over the Blue Cross Blue Shield contract is but one example. Large insurers are no longer allowing hospitals to balance their budgets on their customers’ backs. They are looking for rock-bottom pricing. So, it was with some surprise that the county decided to cut the $333,500 in the budget for the Medical Center, down from $500,000 last year. Surprise because the bill presented is for several million more dollars. However, this is not the first time the county has given the Medical Center the shaft, but in this new arrangement, senior leadership at the hospital knew nothing of the possibility of a full cut.

In 2006, the Medical Center took a $420,000 hit as all outside agencies were cut 10 percent. In 2007, the county decided to pay for its property revaluation by cutting its $4 million Medical Center line item in half. In 2008, the county restored $1.9 million of the cut. Even if the $333,500 were restored, the county would have reduced its contribution to the Medical Center by 92.6 percent since 2005.

While we appreciate the thought process in trying to maintain the museums with this move, it comes at too great a price. Commissioners need to revisit the budget, again. It is important that one of the largest employers in the county remain healthy and that the county contributes something to pay its bills.

The Medical Center is not too big to fail.

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