Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital is located at 1199 Prince Avenue in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Jason Born)

The health care system in Georgia is abysmal. U.S. News and World Report ranked Georgia 39th overall in health care in the country, including 41st in health care access, 37th in its quality and 36th in public health. 18.8 percent of adult Georgians are uninsured, far above the national average of 13.3 percent

Georgia must fix its health care system and ensure that those in need have access.

It is no secret that health care in the United States is expensive. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports the United States spent almost double what ten other high income countries did in 2016 despite worse health outcomes, and the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development found in its study of 35 countries that the United States paid the most per capita on health care in 2018.

And in some parts of Georgia, those costs are even higher. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, health care costs in Metro Atlanta are 8% higher than the national median. Furthermore, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, health care costs can vary widely between counties, depending on the amount of competition in the area.

The situation is difficult in rural Georgia as well. The AJC found that many rural counties lack the medical experts needed to treat patients. The statistics are striking: in Georgia, 63 counties do not have a pediatrician, 84 do not have a psychiatrist, and eight do not have any doctors at all. Without access to the proper doctors, many rural patients have to drive outside their counties for treatment. However, such trips are challenging for lower-income families. 

Georgia’s government has recently taken steps to improve the situation. For example, the Georgia legislature passed Senate Bill 106, which allows the governor to submit waivers to the federal government to address the specific health care needs of Georgians. It is unclear at this point what Governor Brian Kemp will do with this power, but the bill could help lower income Georgians gain access to Medicaid and lower health insurance costs.

The state government also took promising steps toward reducing the workforce shortage with the passage of Senate Bill 207. The bill includes funding for more residency slots to improve medical education in Georgia. It also includes incentives for new doctors to work in underserved areas.

With the passage of these bills, Georgia’s government has taken steps to improve its health care system. Though we do not know the full impact of these measures yet, they demonstrate positive steps and a political will to address the issue. The government should capitalize on this political will and continue looking for ways to provide low cost coverage for all Georgians.

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