A Georgia lawmaker wants to allow many of the state's hospitals to tap into pending tax refunds to cover unpaid hospital bills.
House bill 81 would allow Georgia hospitals that are owned by public hospital authorities to get outstanding medical debts paid by deducting the money owed from a pending state tax refund. The bill would include authority-owned facilities that are operated by non-profit organizations, which is the case with many hospitals in Georgia.
Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, said it would allow struggling hospitals an avenue to collect money they have not been able to get through billing or collection proceedings. He said he was thinking especially of the state's small hospitals, many of which are struggling to stay afloat.
McCall said his local hospital suggested the idea and he thought it made sense.
"You know these rural hospitals have got one foot in the grave and the other one fixing to fall in it," McCall said.
State law authorizes a process that allows several types of government debts, including unpaid traffic fines, to be paid from refunds being processed by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
"It is not going to be the saving grace of all these little hospitals, but it may help," McCall said.
The Georgia Hospital Association said it had not taken a position on the bill.
Beth Stephens, of the statewide consumer organization Georgia Watch, urged the legislature to be cautious, given the complaints many consumers have about accuracy of health care bills.
"The hospital bills really concern us in terms of the opportunity for error and consumers' ability and desire to try to negotiate those bills – we wouldn’t want to see that limited in any way," she said.
McCall said he was working to tweak the bill to make it clear that it wouldn't apply to bills that were in dispute or care that was provided to indigent patients.
"It’s aimed at those people that just flat won’t pay," he said.