Rural hospital tax credit bill touches off Medicaid debate

Legislation expanding Georgia’s rural hospital tax credit Wednesday sparked a renewal of a longstanding debate over whether the state should expand Medicaid coverage.

The state House of Representatives voted 114-53 to offer a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit in exchange for private donations to Georgia’s financially struggling rural hospitals. Six hospitals across rural Georgia have closed since 2013, and red ink is threatening the futures of many others.

The General Assembly passed a bill last year increasing the value of the tax credit from 70 percent of the amount contributed to the program to 90 percent. Stepping it up again to the full 100 percent would encourage more Georgians to make a donation, said Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, the bill’s chief sponsor.

“Every dollar we can get in our rural hospitals is important,” he said.

But House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, said propping up rural hospitals with private donations is inadequate. He noted the tax credit program raised $10 million for rural hospitals last year.

“The rural hospital crisis we face in our state is not a $10 million problem,” he said.

Trammell argued Georgia could bring in $3 billion a year from the federal government if the state chose to expand Medicaid eligibility, an option under the Affordable Care Act he said 32 states have taken.

Gov. Nathan Deal has resisted proposals to expand Medicaid in Georgia since 2012, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave states a choice to expand coverage under the joint federal-state program or stand pat. The governor has long argued Georgia can’t afford the cost.

After Republican legislative leaders defended Deal’s position, the GOP majority caucus passed Kelley’s tax credit bill over “no” votes from most House Democrats.

The measure now moves to the Georgia Senate.

Leave a Reply