"These gaps really make it so that Georgians can't afford needed health care. If they receive health care, they're left with medical debt, or they have to make really tough…
Legislative Update: Week 11
Final days of 2020 legislative session set as General Assembly debates budget cuts
Last week legislators returned to the Capitol to complete their work on the FY 2021 state budget and address key legislative priorities. On Friday, the Georgia Senate passed a state budget that cuts $2.6 billion in spending during the upcoming year. This budget includes deep cuts to K-12 education and to critical health care programs, which we have detailed below along with next steps in the budget process.
On Saturday, the General Assembly set the calendar for the remainder of the legislative session. Both chambers will convene every day this week and plan to conclude their 2020 business this Friday, June 26th, likely late in the evening.
Don’t miss the bevy of action alerts in this week’s email. Scroll down for actions you can take to make improve Medicaid coverage for new mothers, increase Georgia’s tobacco tax, and protect Georgia’s budget from drastic cuts.
Surprise Billing Legislation Unanimously Approved By Senate
Surprise billing legislation heads to Governor’s desk
Last week, the Georgia Senate unanimously approved the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act (House Bill 888), bringing Georgia one step away from ending onerous surprise medical bills. HB 888 now heads to Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature. The Governor is expected to sign the bill as he pointed to this issue as a high priority during his January State of the State address.
This bill will mark a huge win for Georgians as it will ban surprise billing in emergency and non-emergency situations beginning January 1, 2021. This success comes after years-long debate among Georgia legislators. Georgians for a Healthy Future and Georgia Watch are pleased to work closely with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices, Chairman Richard Smith, Senator Hufstetler, and Representative Lee Hawkins to finally bring a resolution to Georgia consumers. Please call these leaders and thank them for their support and dedication to this issue:
- Gov. Brian Kemp: 404-656-1776
- Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan: 404-656-5030
- Senator Chuck Hufstetler: 404-656-0034
- Chairman Richard Smith: 404-656-5141
- Representative Lee Hawkins: 404-656-7855
Legislation to Extend Postpartum Medicaid Coverage Moves Ahead
Postpartum Medicaid coverage bill heads to Senate floor today
HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. After unanimous approval in the Senate Health and Human Services committee last week, this legislation heads to the Senate floor for a vote today.
Currently, pregnant women covered by Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after their birth or miscarriage. Due to restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements for Georgia parents and because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults, many mothers who try to apply for Medicaid after the 60 days are ineligible and become uninsured.
Action alert: Contact your state senator now and encourage their support for the passage and funding of this important piece of legislation! The Senate will convene at noon and a vote on HB 1114 is expected soon after.
Progress on Tobacco Tax Increase
Resolution to increase tobacco tax moves ahead in Senate
On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee approved SR 435, sponsored by Senator Randy Robertson, aimed at increasing the tobacco tax rate from 37 cents to $1.35 per pack. We thank the members of the Senate Finance Committee for their quick action to find and approve new revenue to improve health in Georgia. Raising Georgia’s tobacco tax could bring in as much as $600 million annually and help to lower smoking rates among youth and adults.
- Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee and ask them to approve the bill for a vote on the Senate floor.
- Call or email your state senator today and encourage their support for this important piece of legislation!
Georgia Senate Passes State Budger that Includes Deep Cuts
Key health programs see cuts of $250 million
Last Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the FY2021 budget, which will begin July 1, 2020. The budget includes deep cuts to many state agencies, including 12 furlough days for staff and hiring freezes. The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute provides a fuller picture of the budget cuts here. State agencies and programs that directly impact the health of Georgians were not spared in the budget cuts:
- Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities would see a cut of $122 million total, with the biggest cuts focused on services for adults with developmental disabilities, child and adolescent mental health services, (including prevention programs and supported education services), housing vouchers for people with mental illnesses and other adult mental health services, and adult substance use recovery services.
- Department of Public Health would see a cut of $27.4 million total. More than half of that cut ($13.9 million) would come from a reduction in grants to local health departments and another $4.9 million would be cut from health promotion funds.
- Department of Human Services (which includes the Dept. of Family & Children Services, Division of Aging Services, and other agencies serving vulnerable populations) would see a cut of $100 million. The funding cut would require 50 Dept. of Family & Children Services office to close and consolidate, exacerbating the limited access of families to food assistance, cash assistance for families with children, and other social services.
- Georgia’s Medicaid agency, the Department of Community Health, was able to offset $205 million in cuts because the federal government has increased its support of the Medicaid and PeachCare programs as part of the federal coronavirus relief packages, although some cuts were still made in the DCH budget.
The budget is now being considered by a conference committee made up of members from both the House and Senate. Please contact these conference committee members to let them know that they can avert these steep budget cuts by considering new revenue options. Several common sense proposals (Increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax, expanding Medicaid, reclaiming the health insurance assessment, among other options) could increase revenue without impacting the amount of taxes paid by the vast majority of Georgia families. Contact the budget conference committee members today!
- Senator Mike Dugan: 404-656-7872
- Senator Blake Tillery: 404-656-0089
- Senate Butch Miller: 404-656-6578
- Representative Terry England: 404-463-2247
- Representative Jon Burns: 404-656-5052
- Representative Jan Jones: 404-656-5072
Pharmacy Benefit Manager Legislation Keeps Moving
Two bills to reform PBM practices in Georgia move forward
Georgia’s House and Senate continued their efforts last week to better regulate how pharmacy benefit managers operate in Georgia. Pharmacy benefit managers (commonly called PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies. After presenting a revised version of SB 313, Senator Dean Burke’s bill was approved by the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care. The revised version requires that PBMs count third-party financial assistance or coupons towards a consumer’s out-of-pocket costs when the medicine is a brand-name that 1) does not have a generic or 2) a patient obtained the prescription through step-therapy, prior authorization, or their health insurance plan’s appeals process. This protection will benefit many Georgians with expensive prescriptions. GHF will detail the other revisions included in SB 313 in future email updates.
Additionally, Rep. Knight’s HB 946 was approved by the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee on Friday and was passed by the full Senate today. The bill will return to the House for an “agree” to the bill’s amendments before it heads to the Governor’s desk.
(For an overview of both bills in their original forms, please read our March 2nd legislative update.)
GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session and COVID-19
GHF will be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.
- Sign up for the Georgia Health ActionNetwork (GHAN) to receive action alerts that let you know when there are opportunities for advocacy and action
- Track health-related legislation
- GHF’s 2019-2020 legislative priorities
GHF is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the information you need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments.
- COVID-19 Policy priorities for a healthy Georgia — updated weekly
- Your health coverage, care, and well-being — updated weekly
- Mental health & addiction recovery in the time of COVID-19 — updated as new information becomes available
- NEW! Health insurance options for Georgians during COVID-19