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North Forsyth legislator's bill gives tax credit for donations to rural hospitals
District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan aims to help struggling health care centers
District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan

For years, rural hospitals throughout Georgia have struggled to remain open, fighting to save Georgians’ lives.

Now, thanks to a Forsyth County state representative, taxpayers who donate to these financially struggling rural hospitals starting in January 2017 can receive an income tax credit – with a goal to incentivize residents to help keep these health care centers running.

In April, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 258, which was first conceived by District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan, a Republican from Cumming, less than a year ago and is nearing implementation.

“I expect this program to have a sustaining impact on rural health care in Georgia for generations to come,” said state Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill advanced quickly through the state’s legislature during the 2016 Georgia General Assembly, moving from Duncan’s proposed House Bill 919 to the revised senate bill in just a matter of months.

“It’s been extremely gratifying to watch the Rural Healthcare Reform Bill go from just an idea I had while sitting in church last October, all the way to a powerful tool for rural Georgia to help save its local healthcare systems,” said Duncan, whose district spans east and north Forsyth.

The bill will allow taxpayers to apply for a state income tax credit for either 70 percent of an individual’s contribution to an approved rural hospital, or $2,500 – whichever is less.

For a couple filing jointly, the credit can be 70 percent of the contribution or $5,000 – again, whichever is less. A corporation or fiduciary taxpayer can receive a tax credit of up to 70 percent of contributions or 75 percent of income tax liability.

Under the new law, donations of up to $4 million to approved hospitals will be eligible for tax credit. However, the credit will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis and is set to expire after three years.

The statewide cap of tax credits will be $50 million in 2017, $60 million in 2018 and $70 million in 2019. The program, as it stands, will remain in place through 2019.

The Georgia Department of Community Health and the Georgia Department of Revenue recently drafted rules and regulations for the implementation of the tax credit and also posted a tentative list on the DCH website of hospitals that should qualify for the program.

Each potentially eligible hospital must submit a five-year plan detailing its financial viability and stability, which may reduce the number of qualifying hospitals.

They also will be required to submit monthly reports of donations received and how the money is spent.

Taxpayers, too, have some hoops to jump through.

Due to the annual caps, tax credits must be pre-approved and interested residents must submit an online form to the Georgia Tax Center prior to making a donation.

They will then be required to report the actual amount of each donation within 30 days, or their credit will likely be denied.

This is a step in the right direction for Georgia’s health care system, Duncan said.

“This innovative piece of legislation has put Georgia at the forefront of the national conversation for rural health care reform,” Duncan said, “and has positioned our state to bring broader health care solutions to the table on a national level.”