September 28, 2016 8:00 AM
The Senate Rural Healthcare 180 Task force met for the first time on Tuesday, seeking ways to leverage a tax credit program approved during the 2016 session that would provide funds for rural hospitals, many of which are losing money at a rate that could result in their closing if nothing is done. The tax credit, originally proposed by State Rep. Geoff Duncan and ultimately passed as Senate Bill 258, allows individuals and companies to make donations to qualified rural hospitals in return for a tax credit of 70% of the amount donated. Total donations are capped at $180 million per year, and unless extended by the General Assembly expires after three years.
The task force is co-chaired by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Georgia Poultry Foundation president Mike Giles. It has two main goals: presenting the case for businesses to donate to rural hospitals, and assisting eligible hospitals in developing best practices for obtaining and using the funds received via the tax credit. “We have way too many of our rural hospitals closing, and there is certainly a crisis that exists,” said Cagle. “It is incumbent upon us to find meaningful solutions to solving this issue of rural hospitals.”
Several rural hospitals in Georgia have closed over the past few years, in many cases because they serve a relatively small population, which contains many indigent and uninsured individuals. In addition, healthcare reimbursement models have changed, making it harder to break even on patient care. Another issue is the increasing number of federal mandates, such as online health recordkeeping and reporting of public health data, that require an investment in technology that many hospitals can ill afford.
Earlier this month, legislative leaders, including House Budget Committee Chairman Terry England and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Hill, warned against hospitals paying a fee of around 6% to consultants that would, in turn, find donors willing to participate in the tax credit program. The Rural Healthcare 180 task force, as a volunteer organization, is different. As Lt. Governor Cagle explained, “This is more than simply a promotional item of a tax credit. It’s also the meat and bones of how can we transform a rural hospital into a financial model that is self sustaining.”