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Friday, February 1, 2013 - 12:00pm

Medicaid Bill Heads To Gov. Deal

A bill that would renew a tax paid to hospitals to cover the cost of Medicaid sailed through the state House Friday. The bill heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature, even though some say lawmakers are dodging tough issues by transferring taxing authority to a state agency.

The fee, also known as the hospital bed tax, was first passed in 2010 and would have expired this year.

Under the bill, state officials would empower the department of community health to assess the fee.

The bill’s backers painted the issue as one of rural economics. During debate, Terry England, an Auburn Republican, said hospitals would be forced to close without the Medicaid provider fee.

“It goes without saying that our hospitals are economic drivers in our communities, especially when you live in a rural community," he said on the floor of the House. "If you want to stifle economic development, especially, especially in rural Georgia, then put a no vote up today.”

Some called the bill a gimmick that gave conservatives cover for supporting a tax since technically a state agency, not the legislature, would assess the fee.

Gov. Deal filed the bill after conservative anti-tax stalwart, Grover Norquist, warned the GOP to nix the tax.

Indeed, some lawmakers say the legislature is outsourcing its duty. Brian Thomas, a Lilburn Democrat, says the move bypasses what lawmakers are elected to do, which he said is:

“…To identify the problems facing the state, come with some solutions and implement them," he said during floor debate. "Ultimately that’s why we’re here. And as uncomfortable as it is for some of us, sometimes it takes money to fix those problems. It’s just a fact of life.”

Republicans said without this fee, lawmakers would have had to make steep cuts in other parts of the budget.

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