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Georgia Makes a Choice

November 13, 2010

The voters of Georgia rejected a constitutional amendment that would have increased their taxes to support trauma care throughout the state. Proponents estimated that 700 lives would be saved per year if the state’s trauma system was improved.

The first amazing aspect of this vote is that the Georgia legislators gave their citizens an explicit choice of whether they wanted more money to come out of their pockets and put into the healthcare system. The next amazing event was the voters made a choice without having a major meltdown.

I have mixed feelings about their decision. As a physician who worked in the ER of a Level 2 Trauma Center, I’m disappointed. I suspect the 700 lives estimate is slightly overstated, but I don’t dispute that an improved trauma system would save lives. 700 is not just a number to me. I see the faces of patients I cared for in the trauma bay.

As a taxpayer, I have total sympathy for the voters’ decision. A $10 fee per car per year doesn’t seem like much. But to a person struggling to make ends meet, it isn’t chicken feed.

I don’t know how well the state of Georgia practices clean accounting. In other words, if the state collected $80 million per year in extra fees, would all those dollars go to the trauma system? Or would some of it cover other needs? I suspect the money flow is more nebulous, and normal politics makes the money flow inexact. However,  now that the state isn’t spending more money on trauma care, maybe there will be more money to cover other services that make people healthier. Maybe there will be more money to keep a women’s shelter open, pay for a few more railroad crossing gates, keep more policemen on the lookout for drunk drivers, and pay public health workers to treat the partners of patients with sexually transmitted diseases.

I don’t praise or condemn the decision of the Georgia voters. It’s their money and their decision mostly affects their lives. I do praise their maturity for having a civil discussion about money and lives at the same time. America needs more conversations like this.

One Response to Georgia Makes a Choice

  1. Marly on December 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    I agree with you that it’s important to have more civil discussions like this one. Of course, I also like to see resulting decisions error on the side of saving lives. But who knows, maybe the next vote might work. Very thought provoking post!

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