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Legislative Update: Insurers weaken consumer protections, bills on tobacco & vaping, telehealth, and more move forward!

Legislative update: Week 10

We are dismayed and saddened over the acts of racism and violence that took place in Atlanta last week. We stand in solidarity with Georgia’s Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in this difficult time. If you are in a position to help, we hope that you will donate, volunteer, or otherwise support our partner organizations who are focused on dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy. You can take action here:

In this week’s update:
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End of 2021 legislative session approaching
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The legislature will be in session Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of this week. House & Senate committees will work on Wednesday and Friday. 

Georgia’s 2021 legislative session is set to wrap up next week. The final two days of the session will be Monday, March 29th and Wednesday, March 31st. The last day of the legislative session is called Sine Die, which means “no future date set”.

Action alerts: Hospital visitation & patient rights

Contentious legislation to alter safety requirements in hospitals and nursing homes 
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HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Ed Setzler, creates a new class of individuals who would be legally responsible for making medical decisions on behalf of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Under this legislation, the newly-created “legal representative” would be able to make medical decisions for a patient, even if that person is able to make the decision themselves. It also allows the legal representative to designate “essential caregivers” with hospital visitation rights and may grant the representative access to a person’s private medical records—both without the person’s consent.

HB 290 goes further and ties the Governor’s hands in emergency situations when quick decision making is vital to contain infectious diseases (like COVID-19 or Ebola virus).

While HB 290 was introduced with good intentions, the current version will create unsafe environments for patients, hospital and nursing home workers, and visitors. 

The Senate HHS committee is scheduled to hear HB 290 tomorrow. Ask the committee members to support consumer & patient autonomy and public health by voting NO on HB 290.

Ask for a hearing on HB 454 in the Senate Insurance & Labor committee!
Dollar sign in health care plus sign

HB 454, sponsored by Rep. Mark Newton, requires that health insurance plans cover health services as if they are in-network even if the provider moves out-of-network after a consumer’s health plan year has started. The protection would last for 6 months (180 days) from the time of the change. This bill was passed in the House and sent to the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee where it awaits a hearing.

Contact the members of the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee today and ask for a hearing on HB 454.

What happened last week: Tobacco & vaping, telehealth, vaccine administration, & more

Tobacco & vaping education passes in Senate committee
Image of crossed out cigarette and vape

HB 287, sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Rich, would require the inclusion of tobacco and vapor products when students in grades K-12 learn about alcohol and drugs. These learning units about unhealthy substances are required every year for Georgia students. HB 287 was passed with changes in the Senate Education and Youth committee last week. The bill now needs approval from the Senate Rules Committee to receive a vote by the full Senate.

Expansion of telehealth services moves forward in Senate 
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HB 307, sponsored by Rep. Mary Robichaux, would allow health care providers to provide telemedicine services from home and patients to receive telemedicine services from their home, workplace, or school. Additionally, the bill prohibits insurers from requiring a deductible or an in-person consultation before covering (paying for) telemedicine services. This would give providers and consumers more flexibility for when and where they can access care virtually or over the phone. The bill has been approved with changes by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. The bill now needs approval from the Senate Rules Committee to receive a vote by the full Senate.

Legislation to update newborn screening for new disorders approved by Senate committee
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HB 567, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would create a Newborn Screening and Genetics Advisory Committee. This committee would make recommendations to the Department of Public Health for the addition of new disorders to Georgia’s newborn screening practices. This bill was approved with changes by the Senate Health & Human Services committee last week. The Senate Rules Committee must approve the bill before it can receive a final vote by the full Senate.

House Insurance committee approves vaccine administration bill
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SB 46, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, allows emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and cardiac technicians to give vaccines during public health emergencies. This authorization only applies to vaccines for illnesses for which there are declared public health emergencies. This bill also removes the exemption for children under 18 to register with the statewide vaccination registry (called GRITS) for vaccinations administered due to a declared public health emergency. This bill was approved with changes by the House Health & Human Services committee last week.

Significant changes made to weaken prior authorization legislation
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SB 80 was heard for a second time by the House Insurance Committee this morning. The Ensuring Transparency in Prior Authorization Act is sponsored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick and aims to increase access to care by putting common-sense guardrails around prior authorization. (Learn more about prior authorization in our February 8th legislative update.) 

Unfortunately, this bill has been changed in the House because of lobbying by insurance companies. Several important consumer protections have been watered down or erased. We will keep you updated on the ways that you can advocate to restore the guardrails that best protect consumers and ease access to care. Stay tuned!

Bill to provide patient protections in emergency situation moves ahead in House
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SB 82, sponsored by Senator Michelle Au, requires that insurers pay for emergency services regardless of the final diagnosis of the patient. The bill also revises the definition of “emergency medical services,” “emergency care,” and “emergency condition” in order to better protect patients. This bill was approved with changes by the House Insurance Committee last week.

House committee votes to pass bill to update HIV related laws
Image of HIV red ribbon

SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, provides updates to modernize the state’s laws related to HIV. This bill would reform Georgia laws that have stigmatized and criminalized people living with HIV. This bill was passed by the House Health & Human Services committee last week. The House Rules Committee must approve the bill before it can receive a final vote by the full House.

GHF has you covered!

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
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GHF will continue monitoring legislative activity on critical consumer health care issues. 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.


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