Whether you’re a Georgia resident, a business owner or both, one of your largest expenses undoubtedly centers on healthcare. In fact, according to the annual Milliman Medical Index, the typical cost for a family of four insured by their employer’s most common healthcare plan is $28,166. In 2016, that number was $25,000, and in 2010, it was $20,000.
It isn’t just families paying more for health insurance. Businesses around the country are scrambling to hold down cost increases and direct employees to lower-cost service providers. Ultimately, health benefit costs are rising at two times the rate of wage increases and three times general inflation. This cost trend, according to the National Business Group on Health President and CEO, is unsustainable and unaffordable over the long term.
While Forsyth County may consistently be the healthiest county in the state of Georgia, it is important for all residents and businesses to take note of the current Georgia healthcare market and how ongoing trends will shape the market in the future.
To start, it is helpful to understand the current healthcare market in Georgia and how it is affecting both families and businesses.
First, Georgians are not alone in feeling the effect of rising healthcare costs. But that said, Georgians are particularly susceptible to higher costs. That is, compared to other patients in different states. According to reports from the Georgia Health News, Georgia has higher medical costs than other states. Healthcare costs in the metro Atlanta area are higher than in most cities around the country.
There is also significant variation in the prices for certain medical procedures throughout the state. For instance, a simple blood test has a median cost of approximately $132 in Atlanta. By contrast, the median price for a blood test is $44 in Augusta and $48 in Savannah. A mammogram has a median price of $221 in Atlanta, $199 in Augusta, and $131 in Savannah. As with other costs, Atlanta residents have to dig deeper into their pockets to afford equivalent services that fellow Georgians receive throughout the state.
A discussion of rising healthcare costs naturally leads to a discussion of the health insurance market within the state. Just last month, the Georgia Department of Community Health released a survey describing Georgia’s healthcare landscape. One of the most significant data points from the survey is that Georgia is lagging the national average in terms of its total uninsured population. Specifically, the total uninsured population within the United States is 10.5 percent. The total uninsured population is 14.8 percent in Georgia. This amounts to 1,481,625 people. The survey also shows that 34 percent of the state’s Hispanic population does not have health insurance. Additionally, over 33 percent of Georgia’s adult uninsured population live in the five counties of the metro Atlanta area. In response to the amount of uninsured within the state, the Georgia state government passed the Patients First Act.
Even though the Georgia government has taken active steps to address rising healthcare costs throughout the state, there have been several promising initiatives at the local level. As just one example, several hospitals throughout the state have enrolled uninsured patients in their insurance plans. These plans were inspired by safety-net hospitals in Minneapolis and Cleveland. The results have been promising. For instance, Atlanta’s Grady Hospital saw a 23 to 25 percent reduction in emergency room visits by implementing this plan. The plan emphasizes strong patient engagement and payments based on factors like quality and reduced costs per patient. While this is just one example, it shows that hospitals are searching for solutions to lower costs for uninsured patients. As emergency room visits are one of the most expensive parts of providing healthcare, anything to deter patients from visiting the emergency room for non-emergencies can significantly lower healthcare costs.
These initiatives are promising, but there is also something to be said about providing preventative healthcare opportunities for Georgians. As mentioned, Forsyth County is consistently ranked as the healthiest county in the state. It has received this designation for seven straight years. While there are many reasons for this consistency, one explanation is that the county takes a holistic approach to healthcare. Many Forsyth County residents don’t hesitate to take advantage of the numerous parks throughout the county. Forsyth County also has extensive programming to keep residents active and fit. By taking advantage of all the county has to offer, Forsyth County residents implicitly take a preventative approach to their health, meaning that they are less likely to need to visit a doctor’s office or hospital.
While Forsyth County can obtain even more positive health outcomes—particularly regarding distracted driving and mental health—it does have some unique advantages that ameliorate healthcare costs for its residents.
While it is difficult to accurately predict the future, it is clear that lawmakers and policymakers throughout the state are working to improve health outcomes for all Georgians. This includes higher quality of care and lower costs, whether a Georgian is on Medicaid or obtains health insurance through their employer. The Patients First Act is a step in the right direction, but lawmakers will need to keep analyzing the landscape and implementing common-sense solutions.
As for Forsyth County, it isn’t immune to these trends. But having said that, other Georgia counties can study why Forsyth County continues to be the healthiest county in the state. Like in Forsyth County, fitness and preventative care can certainly be part of an overarching strategy to improve Georgians’ health.