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Senate panel fast-tracks hospital tax over protest

ATLANTA -- With the echoes of the General Assembly's opening gavel still reverberating, Gov. Nathan Deal and Senate leaders are intent on acting quickly to shore up the state Medicaid program without requiring lawmakers to vote directly on the plan.

A Senate committee approved a slightly altered version of the governor's plan Tuesday, with only a handful of audible objections. A vote by the full Senate is expected Thursday, the same day Deal delivers his State of the State Address and just three days after lawmakers convened their annual session.

The question is how to preserve more than $450 million in annual federal support for the Medicaid insurance program, an amount large enough to account for as much as a third of what the state pays hospitals to treat Medicaid patients.

Senate Bill 24, blessed by Deal and sponsored by Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, would empower the state Board of Community Health -- which includes nine appointees of the governor -- to establish assessments on hospitals to generate money that would then be used to claim the federal support.

Currently, hospitals pay an assessment on net patient revenue under a law the General Assembly adopted in 2010 amid sagging tax receipts that accompanied the Great Recession. But that law expires June 30 when the budget year ends.

Few if any lawmakers want to preside over steep payment hikes to hospitals, physicians and other health care providers, moves that could force some small hospitals to close or curtail services. But, facing campaigns in 2014, many lawmakers are equally reluctant to extend the hospital industry tax that makes the existing Medicaid financing structure work.

Republicans in particular fear challengers labeling them as having raised taxes, and national anti-government activist Grover Norquist, a GOP powerbroker, has publicly urged legislators to abandon the levy.

The uncomfortable political dynamic was on display Tuesday as Bethel fielded questions from colleagues on the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. The hearing was complete with a semantics debate over whether the plan is or is not a "revenue measure," Capitol-speak for a tax bill.

Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, said "the clear legislative intent is to raise revenue."

Besides the political implication, Henson and Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, noted that tax and fee bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Henson and Lucas voted against Bethel's measure.

Bethel answered Lucas: "It's an authority bill" that merely empowers the state health board to decide the issue. "They may decide a fee is not appropriate," he added.

Yet earlier in his pitch, Bethel said, "This is a $689 million proposition," the estimated total of the hospital tax and the resulting federal bounty.

The committee also adopted an amendment clarifying that the Assembly, not the board, would appropriate any money that might be generated under the new model.

Hospital industry leaders initially proposed extending their current arrangement, with a few changes.

The industry now backs Deal's proposal.

Comments

FryarTuk 1 year, 8 months ago

Don't you just love it when the GA Senate is so resolute with courage and integrity. I am impressed. They deserve a medal or something. I know, a Profiles in Courage Award to each of the rascals. The good book says let your word be yea, yea or nay, nay; what is more than these is from evil. (Matt 5:37).

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whattheheck 1 year, 8 months ago

And suggested as their way out of having to vote by our most wonderful Governor who says he has no ethics problems. Learned this one while in Congress I suppose. No wonder politicians are despised by all who suffer under them.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 8 months ago

The Real Deal was acknowledged to be one of the 15 most corrupt politicians in Washington, DC. You know with that expertise he is a role model to be admired under GA's gold dome.

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albanygaguy 1 year, 8 months ago

Wow. Gorver just needs to go away. Everytime he comes around things just get worst. He always talks about lowering taxes on the working man but all he does is pass the bill from the corporations to the people. The hospitals will just pass the tax onto the people with medical problems and to many bills to pay already.

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reb_arty1863 1 year, 8 months ago

The hospitals originally were against it, but are now for it. That means they will pass on the cost to patients.

On another rant.... Republicans do not wish to be seen as raising taxes..... They havent. They have raped us with fee increases no one talks about. ie Copies of death certifiicates, marriage liscense fees, gun carry permits,drivers liscense, and now a 1.00 per page for a copy of a document. Albany quick print makes money at 7 cents a copy.

While I generally gravitate to republican candidates, they have ripped the voters of with all the fee increases. They are all worthless p.o.s.

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waltspecht 1 year, 8 months ago

They are just tapping the deep pockets of Insurance Companies, which is actually tapping into our pockets with increase coverage costs. Or does someone believe they won't pass these added costs along? What ever happened to all the funding from the Super Speeder Law? I have heard most places reduce the recorded speed to keep more of the money.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, Turner County hasn't. One of our drivers was hit with a local fine and a state fine that added up to $560.00.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 8 months ago

The way these clodhoppers in the Senate are dealing with the political re-definition of taxes reminds me of President Clinton's re-definition of sexual intercourse with Monica Lewinsky. Of course, as it relates to the GA Senate we know it's the taxpayers getting nailed.

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