Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Georgia Trauma System Update.....
From Peach Pundit and the Macon Telegraph comes the latest on the funding for the long-overdue state-wide trauma system. Some advice: slow down.
The push is on to find new sources of revenue to improve the state's trauma network, and it may lead to big new fines for speeders.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has announced a plan to tack on "additional, substantial fines" for so-called "superspeeders," Perdue press secretary Bert Brantley said. That money would be used to improve emergency care in rural Georgia and give a boost to hospitals that lose money caring for severely injured people.

Other ideas to fund improvements are also percolating at the Capitol, and a finished bill - or bills - may be weeks away from debate. The governor's office hasn't set the amount of the new fine, but Brantley said it would be "potentially in the hundreds of dollars."

Two midstate lawmakers are heavily involved in the process, having co-chaired a study group on trauma-care issues this summer.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, and state Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, said Perdue's plan will have to be discussed. Both men are working on bills to create a permanent commission to manage funds set aside for improvements and keep an eye on the issue after it fades from the limelight of this General Assembly session.
Mr. O'Neal's brother, BTW, is the State EMS Medical Director here in Georgia. Dr. O'Neal has done a fine job here in Georgia and has been a tireless advocate for trauma system development here in Georgia.
The problem:
The problem is the need to quickly treat severely injured people - and the high cost of doing so. Surgeons must be kept on call, expensive equipment must be on hand, and the injured person must be transported quickly.

That's difficult, particularly in rural Georgia, where there are large gaps in the state's network of hospitals equipped to handle the most serious injuries. In fact, the study group found that Georgia's trauma death rate is 20 percent above the national average - a difference of about 700 lives a year.

Money is a big part of the reason. Of the state's 152 acute-care hospitals, 15 are designated trauma centers. And four - in Macon, Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah - offer the highest level of care, the report states. Many hospitals don't offer these services, in part, because of a high level of uninsured patients seeking care, the report states.

Doctors, hospitals and EMS services lose about $250 million a year on trauma care, the report states. The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon has complained of this in the past, saying shortfalls could lead the hospital to drop its level of care.

The devil, as always, is in the details:
The answer, according to several legislators, is to develop a new pool of money to establish new trauma centers, keep the current ones solvent and purchase more helicopters to quickly transport accident victims, who would receive free transport.

Increasing speeding fines would require a constitutional amendment, which in turn would require a statewide referendum, O'Neal said. O'Neal said he would probably support increased fines for "superspeeders," but to expect intense debate over just what that means.

For the moment, the governor's office has defined a "superspeeder" as anyone who drives faster than 85 mph, or 75 mph on a two-lane road, Brantley said. The governor's proposal also targets habitual violators who lose their driver's license and would pay a heavier fine when they reapply for the license, Brantley said.

Staton said he's glad to have the governor on board, but both he and the governor's office agree that new fines might not raise enough money. Projections have put the initial cost of the trauma network need at $85 million, with a lower cost recurring each year.

The study group's report also listed several funding options besides new traffic fines, including:

• Diverting a portion of the Georgia insurance premium tax.

• A $5 surcharge on motor vehicle registrations.

• A $1.16 monthly surcharge on cell phones.

• Surcharges on rental and leased cars.

• An option on Georgia tax forms allowing people to donate a portion of their tax refund to the trauma care fund.

Because the changes would also help prepare the state for a large-scale disaster, O'Neal said he's hoping federal money will be available through homeland security grants.

The ball is rolling on the issue, and there seems to be enough support to make significant changes, Staton said.

The question is "what the numbers will ultimately be," he said.

Between this and CON, it makes for an interesting session.

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