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Medical community opposes Perdue's plan

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Legislation proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to help eliminate a $208 million deficit in the state's Medicaid budget could mean a 1.6 percent fee on local hospital revenue. Perdue announced his proposal during his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday.

Perdue also proposes a 1.6 percent fee on health insurance revenues, said Burt Brantley, the governor's spokesman.

The proposal would significantly raise Medicaid rates for hospitals, according to a prepared statement from the governor's office.

The bill, in conjunction with proposed "SuperSpeeder" legislation, could fill the hole in the state's Medicaid budget and provide $60 million for hospital trauma centers across the state.

Perdue's proposal has been unpopular in the medical community.

Henry Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Claude Carruth said the hospital already operates on a tight budget, and does not have the extra money to spare. He said the governor's proposal could mean an additional 40 percent in losses for the Stockbridge hospital.

"It would be very problematic for us," Carruth said of the proposal.

But the governor said the "one-two punch" of federal mandates for health care coverage and declining revenues offered him little choice.

"This plan will not be universally acclaimed, but I have arrived at this solution after thoughtful, careful deliberation," Perdue said. "I implore you - do not rush into a shortsighted cut that would have long-term consequences for Georgia's most needy."

The Georgia Hospital Association has said one third of the state's hospitals are operating in the red and it opposes what it calls a "tax on the sick."

Kevin Bloye, a spokesman for the association, offered a number of proposals to alleviate Georgia's current Medicaid budget shortfall, including an increase in the tobacco tax, which he said could raise $500 million to $600 million.

"This fee would produce a huge win-win for Georgia," said Bloye.

The group has also proposed redirecting the current one-quarter-mill state property tax to fund trauma care, a $10-per-year fee on auto registrations and eliminating the Medicaid Managed Care Program.

Eliminating managed care, Bloye said, would redirect millions toward patient care by cutting out the need for out-of-state, for-profit insurance companies to administer claims.

Lawmakers could also back President-elect Barack Obama's plan to increase the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage. This would mean about $300 million in additional revenue for the state, Bloye said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.