“During a time when the administration is making numerous, often confusing changes to health insurance, more consumer assistance is needed, not less."-- Laura Colbert, Executive Director, Georgians for a Healthy Future
As the year winds to an end, the General Assembly’s 2017 study committees have largely completed their work and are releasing final reports, complete with notable findings and recommendations for the legislature to consider when it convenes in January. GHF monitored the activities of several Senate study committees this year as they considered changes to Georgia’s health care system that may impact consumers. (We will issue a blog later this week to provide an overview of similar House committees.)
The Senate Study Committee on Barriers to Georgians’ Access to Adequate Healthcare (SR 188) chaired by Senator Renee Unterman focused heavily on provider shortages that impact Georgians’ ability to receive health care when and where they need it. These shortages are felt most heavily in rural areas of the state, including the 79 counties that have no practicing OB/GYN physicians, 63 counties with no pediatric physicians, and 9 counties with no practicing physicians at all. In its final report, the committee issued several specific recommendations to remedy the provider shortages and increase access to care. Most prominently, the committee recommended expanding the scope of practice for Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) in areas of the state with the worst health outcomes and largest provider shortages. The committee noted that Georgia has among the strictest practice environments for APRNs and expanding the scope of practice for these nurses would allow rural Georgians to access quality care despite a lack of physicians. The committee also recommended expanding the practice of telemedicine in the state by training more telemedicine presenters, loosening restrictive rules, and providing more funding to telemedicine initiatives. Lastly, the committee addressed the rash of rural hospital closures around the state, suggesting that the closures could be prevented by providing more specific training for hospital board members on healthcare finance and supporting ongoing education for hospital board members and executive staff. You can read the committee’s full report here.
Senator Unterman also chaired the Senate Study Committee on Homelessness (SR 352). The committee examined the integral link between mental health and housing stability, and discussed housing status as a social determinant of behavioral health. The committee recommended that the Department of Community Health identify ways in which the state could use Medicaid funds to support people who are at risk of becoming homeless, and they recommended increased funding to expand the Georgia Housing Voucher and Bridge Program to ensure that more people who live with behavioral health conditions are connected with supportive housing programs. During the committee’s proceedings, several health care providers testified about the health care needs of people experiencing homelessness, including the need to have health insurance coverage. The committee did not issue a recommendation about how to better provide health care services for the homeless population; however, data shows that expanding Medicaid would be a meaningful and significant step to ensuring access to care and treatment for this group of Georgians. You can read the committee’s full report here.
Finally, GHF has also been following the work of Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s Health Care Reform Task Force, which has met throughout the year at locations across the state. The task force has held meetings about the best practices to combat the opioid crisis and treat addiction, expanding access to health care in rural areas, and strengthening preventative care across the state. The task force convened for their final meeting in October, and they will issue their formal recommendations to the state legislature in January.
It is unclear which of these recommendations will be acted on by the General Assembly during the 2018 legislative session. However, you can count on GHF to keep you updated on any resultant legislation and any other legislative decisions that will impact Georgia’s health care consumers.