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. woman sentenced in child abuse case

    The mother of a 1-year-old boy who was hospitalized with a fractured skull in 2012 has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

    July 29, 2014

  • Kingston’s loss means less clout for Ga.

    For two decades, Rep. Jack Kingston was a congressman who routinely crushed his opponents on election night — winning a new term every other year with vote totals between 63 and 77 percent.

    July 28, 2014

  • salmonella 2 copy.jpg Trial nears for suspects in salmonella case

    Three people accused of scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine people, sickened more than 700 and prompted one of the largest food recalls in history are set to go to trial this week in south Georgia.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 2 injured in western Georgia small plane crash

    Fire officials say two people were hospitalized after small plane crash in western Georgia. 

     

    July 27, 2014

  • Nuclear Construction_Rich(1) copy.jpg Promises of easier nuclear construction fall short

    The U.S. nuclear industry has started building its first new plants in decades using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and money and revive the once promising energy source.
    So far, it’s not working.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Battle of Atlanta_Rich copy.jpg Civil War battle sites have a mobile app

    This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta, one of the key conflicts of the Civil War, and researchers at Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship have released a mobile app for the tour.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kingston, Perdue make final pitch in Senate race

    U.S. Senate hopefuls Jack Kingston and David Perdue hit every corner of the state in one final scramble before Georgia Republicans will choose one of them to take on Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn this fall in one of the nation’s most significant midterm election matchups.

    July 22, 2014

  • Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

    Neither Republican running in Georgia’s closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state’s most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ahead of Tuesday’s runoff.

    July 21, 2014

  • Kingston, Perdue: Teamwork begins after runoff

    Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston have plenty of criticisms for each other as they appeal for votes ahead of Georgia’s Republican Senate primary runoff.

    July 20, 2014

  • Senate-Georgia_Rich copy.jpg Kingston, Perdue offer few details on budget fixes

    Neither Rep. Jack Kingston nor businessman David Perdue has detailed a clear course for changing the nation’s fiscal situation, instead broadly railing against government spending and debt in their campaign for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results