Medicaid recipients in Georgia are in danger of losing half a billion dollars if the proposed extension of Georgia’s hospital bed tax is not passed by the state House of Representatives.

Department of Community Health Commissioner David Cook said without the expiring bed tax, the state would need to find a new way to shore up Medicaid’s financing.

“Our opportunities to address a $550 million shortfall if that were not passed would be pretty much limited to addressing it through provider payment rates, which I think could be significant,” Cook said.

In Georgia, 46 percent of Medicaid recipients are black and 12 percent are Hispanic, according to figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed the bed tax and it cleared its first major hurdle Thursday when it passed the Senate in the first week of the legislative session.

Deal had urged quick passage of Senate Bill 24. The bill would extend the two-year-old funding mechanism and avert a financial crisis in the state’s budget.

House Speaker, Republican David Ralston, has already endorsed the bill.

Policy analysts say there could be as much as a 20 percent payment cut to doctors and hospitals if the bed tax is not passed. They also assert that the cuts would put 10-15 hospitals across the state in danger of shutting down.

Lawmakers are currently considering a proposal sponsored by Deal that would shift the power to levy the tax from the legislature to the Board of Community Health, which the governor appoints.

Critics of that plan say that it’s merely a ruse that allows state lawmakers to get out making a vote on a controversial tax increase.

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