Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, said many customers who are low or middle income won't have to pay the entire sticker price because of tax…
Guest Blog By Timothy Sweeney
Senior Healthcare Analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute
Word comes today that the South Carolina Legislature has overridden a gubernatorial veto of a 50-cent increase in the state’s tobacco tax.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate found the two-thirds vote needed to pass the override, bringing South Carolina’s tax to 57-cents per pack and pushing Georgia’s 37-cent tax farther down in rankings – now 4th lowest tobacco tax in the nation and the lowest of any of our surrounding states. Even a state that prides itself on low taxes shouldn’t be proud of this ranking.
The 2010 Legislative Session is officially over in Georgia. We want to provide you a wrap-up of key pieces of health-related legislation and what they mean for Georgians across the state.
- HB 307 (which ultimately was attached to HB 1055) imposes a 1.45% bed tax on hospitals. It is estimated that HB 1055 will generate $300 million for the state.
- HB 317 (which was attached to HB 411) states that Georgians cannot be compelled to “participate in any health care system,” and that the purchase or sale of health insurance products and/or direct healthcare services could not be prohibited. This language is intended to exempt Georgians from the individual mandate to purchase health insurance that is included in the recently enacted national health reform law. Because federal law predominates, HB 317 is not expected to have much practical impact.
- HB 321 now brings Third Party Administrators under Georgia’s Prompt Pay statues, creating a more attractive practice environment for physicians within Georgia and creating more physician choice for Georgia’s consumers and effectively lowering costs through increased competition. The statute ensures that insurance providers pay medical claims within 15 to 18 working days.
- HB 866 permits state matching grants to organizations for doctors who move to rural areas. This legislation serves to enhance recruitment efforts in bringing physicians and specialists to underserved areas within the state thus allowing for greater health care options statewide.
- HB 1040 allows unlicensed caretakers to perform some home health care activities. This will enable trained, unlicensed care-partners or assistance personnel to provide some health maintenance activities under informed consent for people with disabilities and the written order of a physician, eliminating the ban on such services within the Nurse Practice Act and allowing or more affordable in-home health options.
- HB 1268 extends the 65% federal COBRA premium subsidy for people laid off by small firms.
- HB 1407 provides for a single administrator for dental services for Medicaid recipients and PeachCare for Kids participants thus effectively removing the administrative “middle man” in accessing dental care.
- SB 316 will make Medigap policies available to Georgians who are living with a disability and receiving Medicare benefits, allowing for fewer chronically ill Georgians to be stuck within the Medicare donut hole or avoid other underpayment issues.
- SB 360 and HB 23 deal with cellular phone use while driving. The Senate bill bans texting by all drivers and the House bill bans class D drivers, mostly teenagers, from talking on their cell phones while on the road.
- SB 367 expands the list of persons who may consent to treatment on behalf of another and provides for medical consent guardians.
- SB 458 will require pickup drivers to join the rest of the state’s motorists in wearing seat belts. Pickups used on farms and other agricultural jobs are exempt.
- SR 277 asks voters to approve a $10 fee for license plates to fund trauma services.
Two bills that we closely monitored throughout the Legislative Session, SB 407 and HB 1184, ultimately did not pass. We had major concerns about the impact of these bills on Georgia’s consumers, as they would have circumvented essential health insurance benefit mandates and eroded consumer protections for health care consumers by authorizing out-of-state insurers to sell health insurance plans to Georgians.
One issue that we were following throughout the session, the tobacco tax increase, failed to make it through in the final hours of session. Despite being a win for public health, a win for tobacco prevention and a win for the state coffers, the tobacco tax was left behind for the year. Hopefully next year it will be back on the table for negotiation.
As for the budget:
On the 40th day of the session, the FY 2011 budget was adopted. The Medicaid and PeachCare programs were largely protected from cuts because the state is operating under maintenance of eligibility requirements tied to the enhanced rate of federal matching funds (FMAP) Georgia is receiving from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However, the state budget does include increases to PeachCare premiums. Outside the Medicaid and PeachCare programs, there were other health care budget cuts, including cuts to health department grant-in-aid, Babies Born Healthy prenatal care, and Area Health Education Centers. For a more detailed breakdown of the budget and its implications on health care, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s reports.
Though the session is over, the hard work is far from over. Over the next couple of months Georgians for a Healthy Future will be monitoring the implementation of the new national health reform law to ensure that Georgia is prepared to meet the needs of its citizens. We will continue to keep you updated on issues that affect the health and welfare of all Georgians and we will look to you for support as we forge ahead.
The major overhaul of our health care system is now over a month old but it is now that the hard work really begins. Over the next few months and even years, groups like Georgians for a Healthy Future and others will be deciphering the most complex parts of the law and translating them in to real-time useful information for you and your family. While we’re doing that, we will try to provide you with a handful of resources that can help! Here’s the first installment of useful tools that will help you understand the massive change that our health care system is undergoing.
Guest Blog by Holly Lang, Georgia Watch
In a March ruling that could hold implications for all nonprofit hospitals, the Illinois Supreme Court stripped not-for-profit Provena Covenant Medical Center of its exemption from property tax, stating that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to justify that exemption.
A hospital earns its tax-exempt status through the benefits it provides to the community, the most of which being the free or reduced-cost care for those eligible for such assistance. Such care is deemed indigent or charity care.
Guest Blog By Timothy Sweeney
Senior Healthcare Analyst, GBPI
As we approach the final seven legislative days for 2010, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding both the schedule the General Assembly will set for themselves, as well as with the policy-related results of the session.
Still the most important task before the House and Senate – really the only thing the Legislature HAS to accomplish during the session – is the FY 2011 budget. Currently, House appropriations subcommittees are scheduled for April 12, which means we could see subcommittee budget recommendations next week and passage of the FY 2011 budget by the House later in the week.
We are now in the 28th day of the legislative session and as cross-over day approaches, things are heating under the gold dome. By midnight on Thursday, bills must clear their chamber of origin if they are to pass this term unless they are attached to another eligible measure. Georgians for a Healthy Future will continue to monitor legislation that will impact the health and welfare of all Georgians and work towards providing access to affordable and quality health care.
On Saturday, March 27th at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta the Georgia Free Clinic Network and the National Association of Free Clinics are sponsoring a Free Health Clinic for the state’s uninsured residents. Based on the success of similar events country-wide, we anticipate serving 1800-2200 uninsured Georgians. Similar free clinics have been sponsored by the NAFC in Houston TX, New Orleans LA, Little Rock AR, Kansas City MO, and Hartford CT. These events have been documented by the Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, CNN and MSNBC. The Atlanta event will also be a focus of the national press. To view videos of some of previous one-day clinics, click here.
Guest Blog By Michelle Putnam, MPH
For those inclined to live under a rock, the state of Georgia is in a deep recession, with revenues steadily declining over the past year and showing no sign of recovery. In Georgia, 20% of adults and 18% of high school students smoke, costing our $2 billion a year in smoking-related health problems. Is there a magic pill that would solve both of these problems at once? You bet there is. I give you, the tobacco tax.
By Cindy Zeldin
A new study released this week by Georgia State University found that, in sheer numbers, only California, Texas, New York, and Florida have more uninsured people than Georgia. That’s right: we rank 5th in the total number of uninsured, but 9th in total population. Comprehensive health reform would provide affordable avenues to coverage for the vast majority of our state’s 1.67 million uninsured. Let’s get it done.
This commentary originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As the 2010 legislative session opened, Georgia faced a dilemma: With a sluggish economy and unemployment hovering over 10 percent, there is a spike in the need for safety net services at the very time that state revenues are sagging.
Severe budget deficits threaten essential services such as Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, which serve as lifelines to low-income families who might otherwise be uninsured in this difficult economic climate.
One potential solution is an increase in the state’s tobacco tax, currently one of the lowest in the nation, which could have the dual effect of reducing smoking rates and generating revenue to preserve necessary health services.