ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Nathan Deal has settled on a proposal that could allow lawmakers to avoid voting directly to extend a high-profile hospital tax that helps provide a significant part of state health-care spending.
Republican leaders lauded the idea Monday, the opening day of the General Assembly's annual session. But at least one Democratic leader said questions might be raised about the constitutionality of such a move.
At issue is the so-called "bed tax," which is an assessment on Georgia hospitals' net patient revenue. The yield — more than $230 million this year — is used as state matching money to secure another $400 million-plus of federal support for the Medicaid insurance program for low-income Georgians.
The money is paid back to hospitals via a higher payment rate for treating Medicaid patients. But the assessment, which was originally adopted in 2010, expires in June at the end of the current budget year and, with no replacement, would blow a hole in the state budget.
The issue has been a flashpoint leading up to the session. Health care providers have warned that losing the money would mean hospitals closures and a reduction of health-care access as more physicians declined to treat Medicaid patients. But anti-government advocates, led by national GOP powerbroker Grover Norquist, have urged lawmakers here not to extend a deal, which they characterize as a tax hike.
To sidestep that uncomfortable choice, the Deal administration on Monday unveiled legislation that would allow a state board that sets health-care policy to establish assessments on hospital revenues, rather than have the Assembly do it directly. Spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor's floor leaders would carry the legislation in both chambers.
Georgia Hospital Association spokesman Kevin Bloye praised Deal's outline, though it differs from the industry's call to extend the existing 1.45 percent levy, with a few changes that would benefit private hospitals that lose money under the existing plan because they don't treat many Medicaid patients.
"We are entirely on board with this and are thankful for the governor's leadership," Bloye said.
The initial draft gives the Board of Community Health the virtual taxing authority through June, 30, 2018, or five state budget cycles.
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, called the plan "a fair proposal."