Valdosta Daily Times

State News

October 4, 2012

Ga. GOP lawmakers face uncomfortable tax choice

ATLANTA — Georgia Republican lawmakers could face the wrath of a GOP powerbroker who is warning them not to renew a hospital tax that supports care for poor patients.

If they agree to end the tax, it would worsen the strain on an already stretched state budget and could burden hospitals and their emergency rooms with patients who lack insurance or don’t have enough coverage to pay for their care.

Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform, recently told the Republican-dominated General Assembly in a letter that renewing the Hospital Provider Payment Program would violate the anti-tax pledges of about four dozen lawmakers.

Lawmakers adopted the tax in 2010 as state tax collections tanked because of the Great Recession. It uses tax money paid by the hospitals to generate an even larger pot of state and federal health care money that then flows back to the hospitals.

Hospitals with a large share of poor patients get more back in increased Medicaid payments — a government insurance program that covers the poor — than they pay in hospital taxes. Hospitals with a larger share of patients covered by Medicare or private insurance get fewer benefits than they pay out in taxes. Still, those hospitals get an indirect benefit. They don’t have to directly bear the costs of caring for the poor because the tax helps stabilize the budgets of hospitals serving poorer populations.

Norquist said Georgia lawmakers should let the tax expire on July 1 because he believes it thwarts job growth and encourages more federal spending. Although the lawmakers who signed the anti-tax pledge lack enough votes to prevail on their own, their ranks are large enough to force a debate.

“Make good on the promise you made when the bed tax was instituted as temporary — let it expire ... and continue your hard work to make Georgia an economically competitive destination for jobs, investment and growth,” Norquist wrote.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who signed Norquist’s pledge, must decide whether to recommend renewing the tax as part of his next budget proposal due in January. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson declined to say what Deal would do.

The tax generates significant money. Hospitals are expected to pay almost $234 million in taxes during the one-year period that started in July, according to an August estimate by Georgia’s Department of Community Health. That spending will prompt the U.S. government to contribute an additional $448 million into Georgia’s health care coffers. Georgia pays a large portion of it back to hospitals in the form of increased payments for Medicaid services.

Executives from several health care entities that serve a broad swath of Medicaid beneficiaries followed Norquist’s warning with a letter of their own to lawmakers.

Co-signers from Grady Health System, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, HomeTown Health and Memorial University Medical Center warned that scrapping the tax could result in steep cuts in the payments to health care providers, with some of them, in turn, limiting their services for Medicaid patients. The group noted that 46 other states and Washington, D.C., impose similar bed taxes to generate more federal Medicaid financing.

“If we left the federal match on the table as recommended by Mr. Norquist, the burden of funding Medicaid and caring for the most vulnerable Georgians would fall entirely on the backs of state and local taxpayers,” the executives wrote. “This does not make sense when federal funds are made up of tax dollars that Georgia residents and business pay to the federal government.”

Some Republicans oppose eliminating the tax. Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Medicaid program is already facing a $300 million deficit because more people have qualified for government benefits after losing their jobs. He was skeptical that Georgia could absorb the additional loss.

“Folks, I think, see and understand the need to possibly renew it because of the way it helps the critical care hospitals, especially the hospitals in the rural areas,” England said.

Republican Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, who signed Norquist’s pledge and works as a physician’s assistant in southeastern Georgia, said money lost by hospitals could have been used for other purposes, such as hiring nurses to eliminate wait times.

“What’s really happening is that they’re subsidizing these other hospitals that always operate in the negative,” Spencer said. “My hospital is subsidizing care in a community far, far away in Atlanta.”

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
State News
  • Ga. online tuition dropping

    Jenni Small has good reason for avoiding 8 a.m. world literature classes at Dalton State College in northern Georgia. The 23-year-old works night shifts as an operator for carpet manufacturer Shaw while finishing her bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
    Instead of heading straight to class from work, she uses eCore — an online system that focuses on “core” classes that every Georgia state college or university student must take — for 1 or 2 courses each semester.

    April 21, 2014

  • Vidalia Onion Battle_Rich copy.jpg Vidalia onion farmer back in court over ship date

    One of Georgia’s most prominent Vidalia onion farmers is going back to court in an effort to stop the state agriculture commissioner from fining growers who ship the famous sweet onions before a certain date.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • GEORGIA PORTS_Rich copy.jpg Ga. ports on track to smash cargo records

    Georgia’s seaports are on track to finish the 2014 fiscal year with record cargo volumes as third-quarter numbers show big growth capped by the ports’ busiest month ever in terms of total tonnage being shipped to and from the docks.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gov. Deal signs prisoner re-entry bill into law

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law on Sunday that is aimed at reducing recidivism among ex-offenders and helping them successfully re-enter society.

    April 14, 2014

  • Deal reports $3.9M in cash for re-election bid

    Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday reported $3.9 million in cash for his re-election bid, after raising about $84,000 in 11 days since the legislative session ended.

    April 8, 2014

  • photoscape_eagle.jpg Ga. eagle population continues growth

    During a late-March aerial survey by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, more than 25 bald eagle nests were counted in northeastern Georgia. All but three represented viable adults and chicks.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Private company selling Georgia accident reports

    Selling car crash reports to a private company has saved time and money according to state officials, but some drivers cite concerns over retrieval costs and privacy.

    April 7, 2014

  • Forecasters issue flood watch in Ga.

    The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch covering much of the state.

    April 6, 2014

  • Georgia wants private companies to manage student housing

    Georgia is on course to become one of the nation’s largest experiments in privatized college dorms, but it’s unclear whether the changes will lower students’ bills at a time when university costs are soaring.

    April 6, 2014

  • Ga. misses food stamp backlog deadline

    State officials say Georgia missed the deadline to clear backlogged food stamp cases, putting millions of dollars of federal funding at risk.

    April 5, 2014

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results