Hospital-doctor coalition lobbies lawmakers for stimulus funds

ATLANTA -- A coalition of doctors, hospitals, business groups and patient advocates is lobbying legislators to use funds from the coming federal stimulus package to avoid cuts to health care recommended by Gov. Sonny Perdue.


The governor gave lawmakers a proposed budget that halts a scheduled increase in payouts to doctors who treat Medicaid patients. He also offered legislation that would impose a 1.6 percent tax on the revenues of hospitals and health insurance companies that would go toward Medicaid and creation of a network of specialize trauma-care hospitals across the state. The coalition members oppose both of Perdue's recommendations.

Instead of taxing hospitals, they argue for using whatever funds the federal government makes available to Georgia for health care in the stimulus package -- at least as a temporary measure.

"It's not a silver bullet, but it gets us through the crisis we are in right now," said Joe Parker, president of the Georgia Hospital Association. Taxing the state's hospitals while they're suffering from the recession could put some in a bind, noting that a recent survey of 63 facilities showed that 73 percent will layoff staff and 62 percent will reduce the services they offer if Medicaid payment rates from the state are indeed cut.

Physicians are also considering seeing fewer Medicaid patients. More than half have stopped treating Medicaid patients already and of those remaining, 60 percent said they would reduce those they see, according to Fay Brown, executive vice president of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians.

At an informal lunch over cold sandwiches and chips during the General Assembly's brief meal break Thursday, Parker and other lobbyists for the coalition members made their case.

So far, there's been no sign of Perdue changing his position. But in the House, where his budget and tax proposal get their first test, Majority Leader Jerry Keen said it won't pass.

"Right now, I don't think it would stand a chance," said Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

Parker said the coalition would also favor using raising the tobacco tax and adding a $10 tax on car tags as two ways to fund the trauma-care network.



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