First big split between Johnny Isakson, David Perdue is over Medicare ‘doc fix’

Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue during the Election Eve fly-around last year. (AP photo/John Bazemore)

Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue during the Election Eve fly-around last year. AP/John Bazemore

The U.S. Senate’s vote to cast a permanent stake in the heart of the long-running “doc fix” split Georgia’s Republican senators, as rookie Sen. David Perdue joined a handful of colleagues, including two GOP candidates for president, in the “no” column.

Perdue and Sen. Johnny Isakson had voted mostly in lockstep this year, but the bill provided a clear chance for division.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogIn a deal struck by House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the bill ends the yearly farce of coming up with extra money at the last minute to avoid slashing doctors’ reimbursement rates — which Isakson has dealt with for more than a decade.

While it does implement some Medicare savings by, for example, increasing premiums for upper-income beneficiaries, the bill also adds to the deficit in the long term and has been panned by some conservatives. And if nothing else, Perdue ran for Senate as a fiscal hawk.

The bill cleared the House with nearly 400 votes — the only Georgians against were Reps. Tom Graves, R-Ranger; and Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville — and passed the Senate, 92-8, late Tuesday night, just hours before the payment cuts were to go into effect.

Some more background from the New York Times:

The legislation moves Medicare in a direction espoused by Mr. Obama and many health policy experts, toward payment based on the quality and value of care, rather than just the volume of services. Organized medicine now accepts that change in principle, and the American Medical Association lobbied strongly for the bill, demanding that Congress “fix Medicare now.”

Congress has passed 17 short-term bills since 2003 to block cuts in Medicare doctors’ fees that were called for under the existing law. Such cuts would most likely prompt some doctors to accept fewer Medicare patients.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said the bill taken up Tuesday was “designed to ensure that seniors on Medicare don’t lose access to their doctors.”

Isakson, through a spokeswoman, praised the long-sought changes:

“I have been fighting to secure reforms to the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate for 17 years to ensure that seniors can keep their doctors and to put Medicare on a long-term, sustainable path. With this legislation, Congress has taken an important first step forward on strengthening Medicare and reforming entitlements.”

Perdue, who was joined by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the nay column, said via a spokeswoman that it was all about the debt:

“We have got to stop borrowing at these outrageous levels to meet our federal priorities. Meeting the needs of our seniors, doctors, and rural health centers is a priority, but we need to find the money within the budget process, and put together a responsible way to pay for these priorities, not use more borrowed money that adds to our long-term debt.”

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For weeks, the state Department of Public Health has been laying the bureaucratic groundwork for medicinal marijuana, which Gov. Nathan Deal will make legal with his signature on Thursday.

The state officials no estimate of how many patients will sign up to receive cannabis oil under the new law, but as many as 500,000 people could be eligible.

DPH spokesman Shawn Ryan  told WSB’s Lori Geary that the state is developing an electronic system so that doctors can request cards that allow their patients to legally use the drug:

“This is not something the department has done before, or the state has done before,” he said. “So we want to make sure we do it right.”

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One of the deals made to pass a $900 million-a-year transportation funding bill makes its debut at 3 p.m. today before what’s called the “equal access” committee of the state Board of Transportation.

The committee will take up a resolution in support of including minority- and female-owned businesses in state-funded DOT contracts. The full DOT board could take up the matter on Thursday.

The federal government already requires the state to keep track of who gets what share of the billions it sends Georgia’s way. Which is why black lawmakers erupted during the past session upon learning that African-American contractors account for less than 3 percent of DOT contracting.

You can also expect this recent piece by our AJC colleague Andria Simmons to be part of the conversation:

One of the state’s largest road contractors has agreed to pay a $1 million settlement for falsely claiming it was subcontracting with a minority-owned business in order to be eligible to work on federal road construction projects.

The settlement to be paid by Marietta-based contractor C.W. Matthews was the culmination of a federal investigation.

Investigators found C.W. Matthews filed “false and misleading” reports to continue receiving payments under a federal construction program that encourages minority-owned business participation, known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program.

The program requires that a percentage of the work on certain projects be subcontracted to minority-owned firms. Before a contractor can even bid on such a project, the company must identify the minority-owned subcontractor it would use if awarded the contract.

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The beleaguered state ethics commission is close to choosing a new leader. It will just take someone’s observance of the state’s open record laws to find out who the finalists are. Our colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin reports:

Commission Chairwoman Hillary Stringfellow said Tuesday that the board has chosen four individuals to be finalists, out of a pool of more than 70 applicants.

The State Accounting Office, which handles human resources for the commission, did not release the finalists’ names Tuesday, despite a request from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the information under the Georgia Open Records Act. The office has three business days to produce the records.

The commission, formally known as the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, has been without an executive director since September,when the board fired Holly LaBerge.

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Atlanta will hold the inaugural conference for women engineers, and it’s expected to attract a roster of political and business heavyweights.

The first-ever Women in Construction, Engineering and Related Services conference will meet in Atlanta from April 30 to May 1 and it will feature ex U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sam’s Club chief executive Roz Brewer and Home Depot CFO Carol Tome. We’re also told that California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senate candidate, could be making the trip.

The conference was dreamed up by Jan Bryson and Daphne Jackson, two connected leaders in engineering and construction who wanted to help women make inroads in a field that’s historically dominated by men.

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Georgia Power Co. on Tuesday won preliminary approval from a state Board of Regents committee to erect a wind tower and four turbines on Skidaway Island. From Walter Jones of Morris News Service:

Georgia Power is working with Georgia Southern University to study the availability of wind on the coast for generating electricity. It will also examine the impact of the turbines on birds and the feasibility of using what are considered small turbines, less than 10 kilowatt each.

Typical turbines installed in wind farms in Texas, Kansas and other Midwestern states generate nearly 200 times more power. Since winds here are less constant and at lower velocity, many experts have concluded that those turbines would be impractical in the Peach State.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the turbines in the Skidaway test will be 130 feet high — or about the height of a tall pine tree — roughly half of the 262 feet or 24 stories for the giant, utility-scale models seen in wind farms out west.

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During the Great Recession, bank failures in Georgia became so common it was hard to keep a running count. The same situation might be said for hospitals today. From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

As St. Francis Hospital struggled with severe financial issues since late October, Board of Trustees Chairman Richard “Bo” Bradley said it ultimately became clear “the right choice” was to strike a deal with a large Tennessee-based hospital corporation.

St. Francis announced last week that it was entering “exclusive discussions” with a subsidiary of Community Health Systems, a deal that became necessary when the Columbus hospital disclosed late last year that it had a nearly $30 million accounting error.


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