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Health care key at Eggs & Issues event
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The state’s top policymakers gave their views on its toughest issues, including a hospital provider tax and other health care funding matters, at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs & Issues breakfast.

At Wednesday morning’s event in Atlanta, Gov. Nathan Deal laid out his view on health care, one day before his State of the State address. A lot of discussion centered on economic development, along with education, transportation and ethics.

The cost of health care and health insurance was the overriding theme of Deal’s speech. Georgia expects to pay almost $150 million more to fund its current obligations regarding its active and retired state employees and teachers by 2015, Deal said. Medicaid and PeachCare, which insure the poor, disabled and elderly, are short more than $500 million in 2014, and the Department of Community Health is mandated to cut 3 percent from the fiscal year 2013 amended budget and make a 5 percent cut for FY 2014. The current hospital provider fee, or the bed tax, helps the state draw matching federal money for Medicaid.

“I propose giving the Department of Community Health board authority over the hospital provider fee, with the stipulation that reauthorization be required every four years by legislation.”

Deal said the new requirements under the Affordable Care Act will cause more expense and burden for the state, as well as Georgia companies and workers. Most Americans are required to get health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax.
Georgia has decided not to expand Medicaid or set up government-regulated health insurance exchanges.

Expanding Medicaid is an option that some argue would flood the state with federal funding, but Deal said the state can’t afford the expansion in the long run. The new federal law will still add some residents to the state’s Medicaid rolls. The federal government will run Georgia’s exchanges.

“That means that we must make necessary cuts in other agencies and core functions of government since raising taxes is not an option I will accept,” Deal said.

About 2,000 people attended the breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center, hosted by the chamber and sponsored by many prominent businesses. Other speakers included Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber of Commerce president/CEO; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

The event also had a panel, with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, answering questions about education, health care, transportation and ethics. The panel was moderated by Roy Robinson, chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Council. On the issue of ethics, Ralston made the audience laugh when he described the ethics rule the Senate passed Monday that limits gifts from registered lobbyists as “more of a sun visor than a cap.”

Isakson said Georgia is getting closer to realizing its 1999 goal of deepening the Port of Savannah. The deepening will allow larger ships to use the port when the anticipated flow of business starts after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014. The expansion is expected to bring new business to Georgia’s ports and add related and indirect jobs to its economy.

The state must get Congress to sign off on the revised price tag, about $650 million, or get it included in President Barack Obama’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Asked about gun control after the event, Deal said he favored tightening laws around mental health background checks.


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