“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
Last week saw a flurry of activity under the Gold Dome as legislators worked to move bills forward before a key deadline this week. Crossover Day, the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, is the day by which a bill must be passed from its originating chamber to the opposite chamber to remain viable. The deadline prompted legislative committees to take action on many bills last week so that they could be considered on the House and Senate floors ahead of this week’s cut-off. Two bills in particular caught our attention and warrant yours as well.
Bill would cut tobacco tax on “modified risk” tobacco products
Last week, the House Ways & Means committee approved HB 877, which would cut in half the tobacco tax on so-called “modified risk” tobacco products. Tobacco companies have been developing new products that they claim reduce the risk and harm of smoking and are working to gain the FDA’s approval later this year. Health advocates know that HB 877 is a bad bill because: 1) there is no data to quantify the claim of reduced risk; 2) the labeling of a product as “modified risk” may contribute to a false sense of safety and actually encourage tobacco use, particularly among minors: and 3) Georgia already has the second lowest tobacco tax in the country. HB 877 is now in the House Rules committee awaiting a vote by the full House.
Call your state representative!
Contact your state representative and ask them to vote “No” on HB 877! Tell them that Georgia should not lower the tax on any tobacco products and, instead, should consider implementing a new tax on e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices that are currently untaxed.
Comprehensive surprise billing legislation approved by Senate committee
SB 359, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, was approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee last week. This legislation addresses surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 5th legislative update.) The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor for a vote on Crossover Day, Wednesday, February 28th.
Contact your state senator!
Contact your state senator and ask them to vote “Yes” on SB 359! Tell them that too many Georgia consumers are receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills and that this legislation provides them with important, necessary protections.
What Happened Last Week
Expansion of rural hospital tax credit approved by House
HB 827 expands Georgia’s existing tax credit for donations to rural hospitals from 90% to 100%, making the program a dollar-for dollar match. Last year, this program brought about $10 million to rural hospitals across the state. While an expansion of this tax credit may provide some limited relief to rural hospitals, they would see much greater gains if Georgia’s legislature closed the state’s coverage gap by insuring all low-income Georgians, a point made on the House floor during the debate of this bill. The House passed HB 827 and it has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.
No hearing yet for legislation that would close Georgia’s coverage gap
With the legislative session more than halfway over, HB 669, which would expand Georgia’s Medicaid program to cover adults making less than $16,000 annually and parents making less than $21,000 for a family of three, has yet to earn a hearing. The bill sits in the House Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been brought up for consideration. HB 669 is the most significant step our state legislature could take towards addressing the opioid crisis, strengthening rural hospitals, and increasing access to care for thousands of hard-working Georgians. Ask your state legislator to request a hearing for this critical piece of legislation.
Bills impacting health care providers pass Senate HHS committee
The Senate HHS committee approved two bills this week that impact health care providers in Georgia. SB 325 aims to improve access to care by entering Georgia into the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also grants states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers. SB 351 would expand from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation is significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice. Both SB 325 and SB 351 await approval by the Senate Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full chamber.