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Busy week for legislators
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This past week was busy in the Georgia General Assembly.

We voted on several bills, including House Bill 57, legislation designed to protect Georgians from the growing problem of synthetic marijuana and narcotic "bath salts." These designer drugs can cause extreme paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucinations or death in some cases.

HB 57 helps remove these dangerous substances from store shelves by expanding the list of substances that are considered illegal by the state of Georgia.

The General Assembly passed similar legislation last year, but the makers of these drugs constantly change their chemical formulas to avoid the newly passed laws.

Consequently, HB 57 is needed to add the most recently developed components that give these substances their narcotic effects to the state list of Schedule I narcotics. The House approved HB 57 with only one "no" vote, so it too will go to the Senate for consideration.

The final bill the House passed last week, Senate Bill 24, will provide funding for Georgia's Medicaid program. The legislation essentially continues a funding mechanism first created in 2010 to cover a Medicaid shortfall that was in the hundreds of millions.

The General Assembly enacted the 2010 mechanism after hospitals asked to enter into a payment agreement with the state in order to provide a funding stream that could be used to draw down additional federal Medicaid funds and returned to hospitals with an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate. The self-imposed provider payment allowed the state to eliminate a 10.25 percent Medicaid rate cut that would have been devastating for Georgia hospitals and physicians.

In fact, the financial program is so successful that 49 states and the District of Columbia now have similar provider payment agreements.

The 2010 Hospital Provider Payment Arrangement stated that it would automatically end on July 1. Now that this sunset date is drawing near, state leaders have once again worked with our state's hospitals to assess the Medicaid funding arrangement used for the past three years and to decide how the state should move forward. These discussions resulted in SB 24.

This legislation authorizes the Department of Community Health to establish, assess and discontinue provider payments on hospitals.

One of my original concerns with the new legislation as it was first drafted was giving the authority to Department of Community Health.

The final bill that we ultimately voted on included language that allows the General Assembly to have oversight and to override DCH provider payment assessments. The General Assembly will also retain the ability to adjust the amount of money flowing to hospitals through the funding it appropriates in the state budget.

Finally, similar to the previous 2010 measure, SB 24 will automatically sunset after four years.

Failure to act on this bill would have caused a $700 million shortfall in the budget. To put this into prospective, the state could completely eliminate 15 agencies and the entire operating budget for the State House of Representative and still be about $1 million short.

The delicate balance struck in SB 24 will once again allow our state to forgo substantial Medicaid cuts that would have likely resulted in the closing of at least 10 hospitals throughout the state. These cuts would have most affected Georgia's rural communities, where people already have to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospital.

The loss of these hospitals would also hurt our attempts to encourage job creation and economic development throughout the state. I personally met with representatives from all of our area hospitals prior to voting on the bill, and they all strongly supported the measure. Now that both the House and Senate have approved SB 24, it will go to Gov. Nathan Deal for consideration.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as your Representative. We had a good turnout at the informational breakfast Feb. 2 and plan to be at the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega at 9 a.m. Saturday. I look forward to seeing many of you there. Please call on me anytime I can be of service.

Rep. Kevin Tanner can be reached on his cell at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 656-0152 or by e-mail at