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Association leader talks state of health care
Donald J. Palmisano Jr., executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, speaks to a group of local health care professionals. - photo by Autumn Vetter

A group of Forsyth County medical professionals heard Tuesday from a state leader in health care.

About 50 members of the Healthcare Association of Forsyth County, a group organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, gathered at Northside Hospital-Forsyth to hear from Donald J. Palmisano Jr.

Palmisano is executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, the leading advocate for physicians in the state with an emphasis on legislative, legal and third-party payer issues.

Palmisano, an attorney who has spent his career working with doctors in Louisiana and Georgia, discussed some legislative issues at both the state and national levels concerning health care.

He began by noting the importance of physicians in every community.

“They may be the largest employer behind the school board if they are in a community where there’s not a hospital,” Palmisano said. “Over 100,000 jobs are supported by physicians in Georgia … our legislators, leaders in the community want to work with them because they do bring business to the community and they employ people.”

Palmisano pointed out physicians are important in ensuring patients receive the best quality care.

As such, he noted that he had concerns about insurance companies buying out hospitals and other large medical facilities.

“From a patient prospective, I’m very nervous because I don’t necessarily want … a big insurer determining my medical needs at the end the day,” he said.

Palmisano talked a lot about possible changes to the federal Medicaid system.

He said that while some federal organizations are seeking to expand the system to those who are uninsured, that might not be a viable solution to ensuring the availability of health care.

In recent years, there’s been a 15 percent drop in physician Medicaid participation, he said.

“So just because you have Medicaid doesn’t mean there’s going to be access,” he said. “Try to find a physician that takes Medicaid … [doctors] are losing money every time they take a Medicaid patient.”

In regards to medical care in Georgia, Palmisano said one big problem is a lack of residency slots for new doctors.

“We have 600 to 650 medical students graduating every year, but only about 400 residency slots,” he said. “So these students end up going to other states like Minnesota.

“We know that physicians tend to stay where they do their residencies, so why not increase our residency slots?”

Palmisano also discussed a state bill that recently passed promoting physician autonomy, aimed at freeing doctors from undue government intrusion into licensure.

“Now we’re only the second state in the union that says you can’t tie a physician’s licensure to a particular public- or private-payer product,” he said.

He said some other bills that will likely return in 2013 concerned scope of practice.

For example, he said dentists wanted legislation that would permit them to perform Botox and other facial plastic surgery procedures, and chiropractors wanted to be allowed to us anesthesia during some procedures.

“Both of those are out of their scopes of practice, so we’re opposed,” he said.

Jason Mock, director of the chamber’s Small Business Services Center, said Palmisano’s talk is one of several meetings the Healthcare Association of Forsyth County will offer its members throughout the year.