When President Barack Obama and Congress rammed through the Affordable Care Act eight years ago this month, it was adopted on the premise of bringing down health insurance costs for all Americans. But in reality, this plan, also known as “Obamacare,” transferred much of the skyrocketing cost of health care from providers and insurers to patients.
It seems some in the Georgia Legislature want to follow in Obama’s footsteps as the state House has adopted a shocking bill that would allow public hospitals in our state to seize tax refunds to cover the unpaid bills of patients.
Under House Bill 81, now before the Georgia Senate, any hospital governed by a local authority could ask the state to help take a Georgia resident’s state income tax refund for any unpaid bill over $25. It would utilize the Georgia Department of Community Health as the hospital’s collection agency, having the department grab a resident’s income tax refund to pay off a local hospital bill.
If this becomes law, no other local entity would have such power in Georgia.
It’s true that unpaid bills can have consequences in many situations. If you can’t pay a water bill, your service is cut off and a potential lien can be put on your home. If you don’t pay your property tax, officials can auction your home on the courthouse steps. The IRS can seize a federal income tax refund to recoup unpaid federal taxes or for student loans in default.
But House Bill 81 is a blatant attempt by our state government to intervene in the management of Georgians’ health care and their family finances and seize their hard-earned income. Clearly this is not only a power grab but a violation of due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
In today’s world, families are struggling to pay health care costs, with health insurance now the most expensive item in many families’ budgets. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care consumes almost 18 percent of the U.S. economy, or about $10,348 per person. The total figure reached $3.3 trillion in 2016. Health care is projected to consume 20 percent of our economy in about five years.
Walk into any doctor’s office or hospital, and you will find patients who have enormous anxiety about high co-pays, out-of-pocket charges and deductibles that can now reach $10,000 per person. Contrast that with Georgia’s public hospitals – all of which have tax-exempt status as not-for-profit entities.
There is no doubt that every provider in health care is facing pressure due to escalating costs, including hospitals. But the answer is not more government intervention. We saw that with Obamacare and how that made it more expensive for patients in exchange for less choice in how they obtain medical care.
Hospitals throughout our state get relief for treating indigent patients with federal grants, making the alleged need to seize tax refunds even more infuriating to Georgia patients.
And we have free-market solutions to help some hospitals such as a tax credit program for rural hospitals – a plan I introduced in 2016. Georgian individuals and businesses can now donate to rural hospitals in exchange for a tax credit off their state income taxes.
Georgia lawmakers are elected to represent their constituents, not Georgia hospital authorities. The state should not be in the business of picking winners and losers and making hospitals the No. 1 creditor over another industry. Today it is hospitals that want access to a taxpayer’s income tax refund. Tomorrow it could be cable, power or natural gas companies that want access to state income taxes to recoup unpaid bills.
Thanks to President Trump’s federal tax cut and the state income tax reduction signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgians will enjoy more money in their paychecks this year. However, it would be an enormous bait-and-switch to promise them more of their hard-earned money if the state gives local hospitals the power to take their income tax rebates because they haven’t been able to pay their bills promptly.
It’s time to contact Georgia state senators and urge them to make sure state government does not get into the bill collection business for Georgia hospitals. Let patients keep their tax refunds and manage their own money.
Duncan, a former Florida Marlins AAA baseball player and small business owner, has represented Forsyth County in the Georgia General Assembly and is currently a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.