People need their healthcare in their local area.Dr. Scott Bohlke
RINCON — A small-town physician is seeking an opportunity to tackle Georgia’s biggest healthcare problems as a member of the General Assembly.
Dr. Scott Bohlke, who has provided primary medical care in Brooklet for 21 years, is a candidate in the June 9 special election for the District 4 Senate seat.
“My practice is a microcosm,” Bohlke said. “It is a slice of all of this district from all comers, all walks of life — whether they be educators, whether they be farmers — it doesn’t matter. I have taken care of those folks in (my) office.”
COVID-19 is currently at the forefront of the state’s health issues.
“I have been taking care of patients with this and many other ailments throughout the years that I’ve been here,” Bohlke said. “
A former Air Force major and University of Georgia baseball player, Bohlke is also greatly concerned about the limited access some Georgians have to health care. Seventy-six counties don’t have an obstetrician/gynecologist and 60 are without a pediatrician.
Seven counties don’t have a physician at all.
“People need their health care in their local area,” Bohlke said. “They don’t need to drive 40 miles, 30 miles or whatever it is to see a doctor. It’s grossly understated (about) having (medical professionals) in these counties.”
As a member of the Rural Health Board, Bohlke has been addressing the rural shortages, which are compounded by high levels of poverty and chronic diseases, a lack of insurance and hospitals that are on shaky financial footing.”
The Rural Health Care Board offers medical students a loan repayment program. Up to $25,000 annually for four years will be repaid to physicians who opt to practice in underserved rural areas — defined as places with a population of 50,000 or fewer.
Four of the District 4’s six counties qualify for the program.
“It’s not just a doctor shortage,” Bohlke said. “It’s nurse practitioners, too. It’s dentists and other folks.”
Georgia also has a growing number of rural hospitals whose financial status has been weakened by the fight against COVID-19. The federal government recently sent $328 million to about 240 rural hospitals, community health centers and clinics in the state to help them through the pandemic.
Bohlke is a proponent of the Georgia HEART Program — a rural tax credit — that is already helping 56 hospitals. State taxpayers, until 2024, can access $60 million of Rural Health Organization tax credits each year, with qualifiers having access to $4 million worth (until the total annual $60 million cap is met).
Emanuel Medical Center, Candler County Hospital, Evans Memorial Hospital and Effingham Hospital are benefitting from the program.
“I think (the legislature) needs to further that,” Bohlke said. “A lot of people don’t know about it. I think (Emanuel Medical Center) got over $5 million over the last couple years from that tax credit. That has helped them and, from what they tell me, it makes the hospital even more a part of the community than it already is because of that.
“People are giving to (HEART) and they want to see their hospital succeed.”
Bohlke also advocated insurance group discounts at rural hospitals.
“That’s a win-win for everybody,” Bohlke said. “It gets people to go to (a rural hospital) versus some of the other hospitals that are around.”
In addition, Bohlke believes reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid need to be increased.
“Money is really what it comes down to,” he said.
Regarding another health-related issue, Bohlke supports the Senate’s recent action to limit surprise medical bills. Legislation, passed unanimously, would require insurers in many cases to pay for care by a doctor or at a hospital that is not within their network of medical providers. It also would limit patient liability for any costs.
Bohlke also voiced his opinion on other matters.
“I’m obviously against abortion,” he said. “I don’t want that to be a form of birth control.”
The doctor said he needs to examine the topic of legalized gambling before he takes a stance on it.
“I think there are some positives obviously from a revenue standpoint but as a physician I worry about people having an addiction to gambling,” he explained. “That’s almost as powerful as having an addiction to alcohol or other drugs.”
Bohlke believes finding funding to meet District 4’s transportation needs is vital.
“Once again, it all comes down to money,” he said. “That’s what is needed and we’ve got to start moving in that direction, especially (in Effingham County) because (traffic) is only going to get worse.”
Bohlke offered one suggestion that might ease congestion on the district’s highways.
“I know the (Port of Savannah) is using the rails but I think we need to use them way more than we do at the present time,” he said. “That would alleviate some of that truck traffic.”
Bohlke is staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights and against illegal immigration.
“I think we should take care of the folks who are here legally,” he said. “I am against the sanctuary cities as well.”
Bohlke is one of five candidates in District 4. The others are Statesboro CPA Billy Hickman, former Middle Circuit Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer of Swainsboro; Gulf War era Army veteran Neil Singleton of Collins and law school student Stephen Jared Sammons of Adrian.