Trauma-care funding needs action in Atlanta today

Bill would set up vote on $10 tag fee

The Georgia Legislature must act today if voters are to have a chance at approving a car tag fee that would finally provide a permanent funding source for the state's ailing trauma system, a trauma official said.

On the last day of the legislative session, the House needs to take up a bill that would allow a referendum to go to voters in November on a constitutional amendment that would add a $10 car tag fee, said Richard R. Bias, the senior vice president for ambulatory and network services for Medical College of Georgia Hospital, which has the area's only Level 1 Trauma Center.

The tag fee would raise about $80 million a year that would go into a permanent separate fund for trauma care, he said. That amount is what the state's trauma centers were losing a few years ago, said Bias, a member of the statewide trauma commission and chairman of the Region VI EMS Council.

"Therefore, to maintain the existing network, roughly an $80 million infusion was required," he said. MCG Hospital, for instance, loses about $8 million a year on trauma, Bias said.

Expanding the network to cover areas where there are gaps in coverage, mainly in south and northeast Georgia, would cost $150 million to $175 million a year, though that is still being studied, he said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue came through with $58 million in trauma funding in 2008, and $23 million was appropriated this fiscal year and $23 million is in the budget for next year. But to establish a statewide network, permanent funding is needed, Bias said.

While no one has voiced opposition to funding trauma centers, supporters are hopeful they will not run afoul of lawmakers who have vowed not to vote for any new taxes, he said.

"It's our hope that since this is being done in a way that just puts it out in the public domain to allow them to vote on it, that that is permitting the representative to meet his or her promise," Bias said.

It has taken about three years to get to this point, he said. If the House doesn't act today, "we're virtually starting from scratch because there will be new legislators on board, there will be new issues developing," Bias said.

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