I read a letter to the editor from Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Mallory Jones. Commissioner Jones’ letter was offered in defense of his position opposing Macon-Bibb County indigent care payments to Navicent Health. This year’s Macon-Bibb County budget authorization includes a meager, albeit critically important, $451,600 payable to Navicent for indigent care. Initially, I found Jones’ letter amusing, however, my amusement quickly descended into outright indignation. The letter articulated Jones’ uninformed conclusions in such detail that a reasonable person might easily believe Commissioner Jones was acting more as an agent for those who would benefit most from these inaccuracies and less in the public interest.
First, Jones asserts that HCA’s two Macon hospitals provided $17 million in health-care services to Bibb County indigent citizens last year. This assertion is inaccurate, misleading, easily fact checked and false. Navicent Health reported $15 million in health-care services to Macon-Bibb County citizens for the same period. To assert that HCA’s hospitals provided $2 million more in health services to Bibb County indigent patients than Navicent, is so outrageous that even the most casual observers among us would instantly recognize this conclusion as patently absurd.
Let’s dispense with the fiction and examine the facts. Each year hospitals participating in federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid submit a Medicaid survey to the state of Georgia, detailing the costs, not charges, of the uncompensated health care (indigent care) they provided. The surveys are detailed and subject to audit. Last year, HCA reported $8,863,532, not $17 million, to the state in uncompensated health-care costs for its two Macon hospitals. That figure includes costs for patients originating from all over the state of Georgia, not just Macon-Bibb County. If you narrow it down to include only Macon-Bibb County care, the number shrinks even further. Navicent reported indigent care costs of over $31 million for the same period. As with the HCA numbers this is a statewide figure. It is difficult to understand why Jones would disseminate such inaccurate information when it is so easily fact checked.
Jones then launched into a rambling narrative about the number of buildings owned by HCA and Navicent, finally pointing out that HCA paid approximately $884,356 in property taxes to Macon-Bibb County. Navicent Health is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, exempt from federal, state and local taxation. Although Navicent is exempt from paying local property taxes, it in fact paid $728,787 in Macon-Bibb County property tax last year. Jones, in his one-sided advocacy of the issue, not so cleverly failed to disclose property taxes paid by Navicent.
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Jones’ narrative comparing the indigent care provided, and property taxes paid, by the two health systems seems to point to an examination of the relative community benefit offered by each health system. Let’s look at that.
HCA is a for profit corporation whose profits get carted off to Nashville for disbursement to shareholders where ever they reside. On that point, you get no argument from me, after all that is the American way. Navicent’s surpluses, on the other hand, remain right here in our community, and are plowed back into property, plant and equipment, new health services, and dozens of other non-health-care related programs benefiting the community. That is why our community prospers from the security provided by Navicent’s Level 1 Trauma Center, world class heart hospital, nationally acclaimed children’s hospital, world class program for cancer treatment, a vitally important neonatal intensive care unit for the treatment of critically ill newborns, Georgia’s largest rehabilitation hospital, and the list goes on and on. Navicent employs dozens of physicians who would not otherwise relocate to Macon, but for the outstanding health-care facilities located here.
Finally, Navicent’s Medical Center of Central Georgia Hospital, is the primary teaching facility for Mercer University’s School of Medicine. Navicent trains hundreds of physicians at great expense to the system, who remain here and continue to provide much needed health services to our community.
Commissioner Jones did manage to get one thing right. Macon is fortunate to have the great healthcare facilities and services that it enjoys.
Andy Galloway is a resident of Macon and a retired executive of The Medical Center.