Tech Ventures in Georgia Prosper As Health Care Law Kicks In
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
To Georgia now and talk of the Affordable Care Act. The state has opposed the law at every turn. Its governor has chosen not to expand Medicaid, and the state's insurance commissioner publicly vowed to obstruct the law.
But as Jim Burress of member station WABE reports, Georgia is still benefiting financially from the rollout.
JIM BURRESS, BYLINE: Van Willis knows just a few years ago, a company like his would've been a hard sell.
VAN WILLIS: Health care was very reactive.
BURRESS: Willis is president of Atlanta-based PREMEDEX. The two-year-old company contracts with hospitals and doctors' offices to call patients after the hospital discharges them.
WILLIS: From a hospital standpoint, there was very little, if any, communication with patients once they leave. A logical way to communicate with patients if you can't be in their homes is, of course, through the telephone.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And we wanted to check on you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: How are you doing today?
BURRESS: Scattered around a half-dozen office cubicles, a handful of PREMEDEX employees don telephone headsets. They identify as calling on behalf of the clients and they ask simple questions.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And do you have any difficulty breathing?
BURRESS: How patients answer could mean the difference between a hospital's profit and loss. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are penalized if Medicare patients are readmitted within a month for several specific illnesses.
Willis says that's creating a new market for companies like PREMEDEX.
WILLIS: We've got clients across the country - small clients, large clients. They all have to feel the same pressures.
BURRESS: PREMEDEX started with five employees. It's up to 25 and growing. And its story is one told over and over across Georgia.
TINO MANTELLA: We like to say it's the health IT capital of the nation.
BURRESS: Tino Mantella heads the Technology Association of Georgia.
MANTELLA: There's 20,000 technology companies in the state. That came out to be $113.1 billion of impact, which represents about 17 percent of the overall economic industries of the state.
BURRESS: And health IT is a fast-growing segment. Mantella says the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta actually has as many tech companies as startup mecca Austin, Texas.
Medical device company EndoChoice is one company that calls Alpharetta home. It manufactures equipment like flexible cameras used to check for colon polyps. Here, workers assemble and wrap in green plastic single-use EndoKits.
MARK GILREATH: It has a dual enzymatic detergent...
BURRESS: Mark Gilreath is EndoChoice's founder and CEO. He says the company's workforce has grown exponentially in a short amount of time.
GILREATH: We were in my basement a few years ago with an idea. And today, we're approaching 400.
BURRESS: Gilreath says the company's technology helps doctors perform procedures more effectively, control infection and give better care to patients. That kind of efficiency is a goal of the Affordable Care Act. Despite his company's success, Gilreath is concerned a provision in the health law will actually stifle innovation. That's because a law imposes a 2.3 percent tax on medical device company revenues.
GILREATH: So it's shaking the investment community. It's shaking the device industry.
BURRESS: Even so, his company is on track to generate more than $100 million in revenue this year. EndoChoice is a textbook example of the type of tech venture Georgia wants. A recent Commonwealth Fund study projects in 2022, the state will spend about $1.3 billion to attract such companies.
For NPR News, I'm Jim Burress in Atlanta.
CORNISH: This story comes to us through our partnership with NPR, WABE and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.