ATLANTA -- Local charity hospitals in Georgia like St. Mary's in Athens, Grady in Atlanta and Memorial in Savannah could get a state bailout to replace all or part of federal funds being cut as part of Obamacare, Gov. Nathan Deal's top aide said Wednesday.
The bailout could save local taxpayers from being on the hook for the reduced funding. It could also be a lifeline for some rural hospitals on the verge of folding.
Chris Riley, the governor's chief of staff, told reporters that Deal is weighing options ranging from a one-time cash injection to an ongoing commitment for hospitals that serve large numbers of uninsured patients.
"It's a constant discussion with hospitals in Georgia," he said. "It's important to the governor."
As part of the Affordable Care Act federal health reform known as Obamacare, existing federal funding to those hospitals is due to be halved, eliminating $18 billion nationally in the next six years. Designers of the law counted the reductions as projected savings to help counteract the cost of other aspects of the reforms. They figured the cuts wouldn't hurt the hospitals since more Americans would be covered by the expansion of Medicaid.
Deal and the governors of about half the states decided not to expand Medicaid because it would drain state budgets even though the federal government agreed to pay 90 percent of the cost of covering the new people. He estimates Medicaid expansion would add more than $600 per Georgia taxpayer to the state budget.
There are an estimated 650,000 Georgians who could be enrolled in an expanded Medicaid program. Democrats and lobbyists for hospitals and advocacy organizations continue to push Deal to reverse his decision.
In his State of the State Address, he made clear he isn't likely to.
"We will not allow ourselves to be coerced into expansion. I'm prepared to fight any intrusion into our rights as a state," he said, triggering a standing ovation from conservative lawmakers.