The 2013 legislative session kicked off last week and the Georgia State Senate wasted no time getting to work.
Although many issues will pass through the legislature this year, the decision on whether or not to continue the hospital provider fee as a funding mechanism for the state's Medicaid program is one that has received media attention for the past several months.
There remains to be many areas of the Medicaid Program that needs reforming, but as Gov. Nathan Deal explained to the Senate Republicans this week, Georgia cannot modify the benefits again until after 2014. As a condition of the federal stimulus funds that Georgia received four years ago, the state agreed to keep the Medicaid benefits the same.
However, the Senate decided to act quickly and give this issue immediate attention by passing SB 24, the Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act.
The Act would allow the Department of Community Health to continue assessing an existing small fee to hospitals, depending on net patient revenue, in order to make Medicaid rates remain at current levels.
Why is this bill so important to providing quality health care to Georgians?
It has become clear that the initial estimated costs of the federal health care plan (Obamacare) are expected to be much, much more when all is said and done.
As a result, Georgia needs to be able to react to any proposed changes to federal policy caused by skyrocketing costs. Transferring administration of the hospital provider fee to the Department of Community Health will give us that flexibility.
The Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act provides our hospitals with much needed funding, and ultimately preventing the need to lay off employees, cut services or close their doors.
To give you an idea of the financial impact, the Fiscal Year 2013 budget was dependent on $235 million in hospital provider fee revenue in order to receive $454 million in federal Medicaid funding. That means $689 million total was needed in order to efficiently run Georgia's Medicaid program during FY 2013 - and to lose the federal funding component would be a devastating blow to our state. The hospital provider fee is vital to triggering those matching federal Medicaid funds.
There are six hospitals in District 51: Fannin Regional Hospital, Northside Hospital- Forsyth, North Georgia Medical Center, Chestatee Regional Hospital, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital and Union General Hospital.
These hospitals employ a large number of people and provide critical medical services, and if the legislation is signed into law, it will be a sigh of relief to the thousands of people employed by these facilities, and to the even greater number of people seeking medical care each year.
I will be in White County at 1 p.m. Saturday with U.S. Congressman Doug Collins at The Western Sizzler on Hwy. 75.
Anyone who would like to come out and meet with us about what's happening both in the district and at the State Capitol, please join us. All are welcome.
I will also be attending the chamber of commerce annual banquets this weekend in Dawson, Gilmer and Pickens counties.
I look forward to seeing many of you at these various events.
It is an honor to serve you and I am humbled that you have placed your faith and confidence in me to represent your interests at the State Capitol. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district. My door and phone lines are always open.
Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at email@example.com.