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Trauma care needs a fix
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The General Assembly looks like it is giving all Georgians quite a gift for their birthdays — no more ad valorem taxes on their vehicles.

The House of Representatives has decided that car tags should include a $10 fee that will go toward funding the state’s trauma care network. Should HR 1246, which sailed through the House and has been favorably reported by the Senate Finance Committee, go before the voters this November, Georgians will have the chance to decide if they would rather pay a $20 annual fee to register their automobiles with an extra $10 to go toward the trauma care network instead of the sometimes hundreds of dollars it takes to get tags for their wheels.

We’ll go out on a limb and say this measure will pass just as easily from the voters as it did from the House. It eases the burden, somewhat, on taxpayers. Gov. Sonny Perdue’s FY08 budget estimated bringing in more than $298 million in property taxes on vehicles.

It’s also a step in providing a much-needed funding stream for the state’s trauma hospitals. But it’s not enough.

We’ve seen, all too well, just how important good trauma care is. How many lives were saved in the moments after the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth erupted in flames?

The state’s trauma care network is woefully underfunded — a 2006 study said it would take $80 million a year to write off unpaid bills at the state’s 14 trauma hospitals — and Gov. Sonny Perdue has included $53 million in the supplemental budget for trauma care. But that, right now, is a one-time shot in the arm.

Last year, the governor proposed a higher set of fines on so-called “super speeders” that would fund trauma care. HR 1246 and its proposed $10 fee for each vehicle is expected to raise $70 million annually.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the state’s trauma centers treat approximately 10,000 patients annually. The other hospitals around the state combined receive 30,000 trauma patients a year. Chattanooga’s Erlanger Hospital, which has a Level I trauma care center, may ask Georgia’ trauma care commission for funding, since it handles nearly 6,000 patients each year from northwest Georgia.

Plus, Grady Hospital in Atlanta has been in dire financial straits for a while and the state may need to bail out the home of Georgia’s largest Level I trauma care center.

Also, studies have shown that Georgians are 10 more times likely to die as a result from an automobile accident because the state lacks a viable trauma care system.

The price tag for the state’s 14 trauma centers is $80 million a year — now. What will it be in five or 10 years?

As some state leaders look to cut taxes, that means we may have to look at reducing the scope of some services. Trauma care centers shouldn’t be among those.

Because that really is a matter of life and death.