House gives final passage to hospital tax

A bill extending a controversial fee on hospitals that props up the state’s Medicaid program is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

The state House voted 147-18 to give final passage to Senate Bill 24, which gives the state’s community health agency power to levy the fee, commonly called the “bed tax.” The fee helps the state fill a nearly $700 million hole in the Medicaid budget.

Not passing the bill, supporters said, would limit access to critical care for thousands of Georgians. Anti-tax activists see the fee as tantamount to a tax increase, but even lawmakers who loathe extending or creating taxes say ending the fee would deal a devastating blow to Georgia’s health care system.

Deal proposed the change, which would give the Department of Community Health the power to levy the fee, which was originally created by the Legislature in 2010. It was set to end this year.

Without it, hospitals could face Medicaid reimbursement cuts of 20 percent or more.

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Senate Bill 24 overwhelmingly passed the Senate earlier this month.

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