Legislation that aims to prevent a highly charged debate over the state’s hospital provider fee has been officially proposed in the Georgia General Assembly.
Identical bills were introduced in the House and Senate. The exact text was not available electronically as of early Monday evening.
But a draft of the legislation shows that if approved, the bills would transfer the authority to levy the Medicaid hospital assessment from the Legislature to the state Department of Community Health.
That would sidestep the sticky problem of anti-tax Republican legislators having to vote on a fee that has been described by some as a “bed tax.’’
They would simply be voting to switch the control over the fee. Community Health, the state’s Medicaid agency, would then take over assessing the fee and collecting the money. The legislation, if passed, would expire automatically in 2018.
The Republican-sponsored legislation is expected to move fast through the two chambers, which are controlled by the GOP. A Senate committee hearing, in fact, could occur as early as Tuesday.
Currently, the fee is not levied on individual patients or on hospital beds, but is based on hospital net patient revenue. Individual hospitals get different amounts based on how much Medicaid business they do, so there are, in effect, winners and losers under this formula.
The provider fee, through matching federal dollars, currently generates more than $430 million annually for Medicaid.
Georgia’s Medicaid program already faces a $400 million shortfall, and major payment cuts to hospitals were expected if a fee proposal did not make it through the Legislature.
The current provider fee expires in July.
“The entire hospital community is on board with this,’’ said Kevin Bloye, a Georgia Hospital Association vice president. “We appreciate the governor’s support.’’
Community Health would manage the program, but the Legislature would still have oversight, Bloye said. “This may not be a perfect solution, but it’s the best one possible.’’
Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals, noted that the legislation would help shore up Medicaid. “We are quite hopeful that it should pass,’’ Lewis said.
Grover Norquist, a Washington-based anti-tax activist, staked out a position on the hospital fee late last year, publicly warning Georgia legislators that renewing it would kill jobs and raise health costs. He calls the fee “a bed tax,” a label that its supporters say is misleading.
Norquist is the author of an anti-tax-increase pledge that has been signed by many of the nation’s Republican lawmakers, including leading ones from Georgia. He says renewing the hospital tax would amount to breaking that promise.
Medicaid, jointly financed by the federal government and individual state governments, covers 1.5 million poor and disabled Georgians.