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Legislative Update: Session ends this week, updates on patient protection bill, bills waiting for a final vote, & more!

Legislative update: Week 11

The GHF team prides itself on delivering timely and accurate updates to you on health care happenings at the Capitol. We hope that you enjoy reading our weekly legislative updates and that they help you stay informed and connected. If you enjoy them, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you for your continued support!

In this week’s update:
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2021 legislative session ends this week
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Georgia’s 2021 legislative session is set to wrap up this week. The final two days of the session take place on today, March 29th and Wednesday, March 31st, also called “Sine Die”. Sine Die marks the 40th and final legislative day for the year and means “no future date set”.

Our next legislative update will include a summary of the more notable bills taken up this session. You can find a full list of health care related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

Changes to prior authorization bill

Prior authorization legislation passes in House with significant changes
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SB 80 was passed by the Georgia House last week after several changes were made to the bill. 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.) 

In its current form, SB 80 still provides an opportunity for direct conversation between a consumer’s health care provider and the insurance company about the “necessity” of a health service or treatment but there are less stringent time tables attached to this process. The bill requires that insurers notify health care providers and their patients about whether they will cover an urgent service within 72 hours (3 days) after receiving all of the necessary documents, and within 15 days for non-urgent services. If a person has received prior authorization from their insurer and then switches to a new plan, the new insurer must honor the prior authorization for at least one month (30 days), down from 60 days in a previous draft. Provisions that are not in the current version of the bill include how insurers should handle prior authorization for chronic and long-term health conditions or changes in dosage for the same medication, and the enforcement parts of the bill are less strict for insurers.

SB 80 is a significant step forward for Georgia consumers and patients and will ease access to care. Sen. Kirkpatrick has already committed to revisiting this issue to address some of the remaining protections that consumer and patient advocates have prioritized. The changes to SB 80 now need to be agreed upon by the Senate before the bill can get final approval and be signed by the Governor.

Bills that still need final action

Organ transplant discrimination bill moves forward in Senate
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HB 128, sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities. The bill passed in the Senate Health & Human Services committee last week. It now needs approval from the Senate Rules committee to receive a vote by the full Senate.

Changes made to contentious legislation to alter safety requirements in hospitals and nursing homes 

HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Ed Setzler, underwent significant changes in the Senate Health & Humans Services committee after much testimony and debate last week. Hospital groups opposed the bill on the basis that it created an unsafe environment for patients. The Senate committee removed several contentious provisions that endangered patients’ rights and health. The new, simpler version of the bill now requires only that hospitals have visitor policies that meet federal guidelines. With these changes in place, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee gave it a thumbs up. The bill now needs approval from the Senate Rules committee to receive a vote by the full Senate.

Bill that maintains continuity of care awaits vote by Senate
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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 by the Senate Insurance & Labor 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 with changes
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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 last week, but it differs slightly from the version approved by the House and needs an “agree” by the House to go to the Governor for his signature.

Bill to protect patients seeking emergency care hits roadblock in House

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 but the House Rules committee withdrew the bill from consideration and sent it to the House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System for approval.

House committee approves bill to update HIV related laws

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SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, modernizes 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. It now awaits approval from the House Rules Committee before it can receive a final vote by the full House.

Updates to FY2022 budget

Final changes being made to Georgia’s “big budget”

Last Tuesday, the Georgia Senate, passed the FY22 state budget, which begins on July 1, 2021. Next year’s state budget now includes $12.5 billion in federal relief funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, including a $45.9 million grant to address substance use which has increased during COVID-19. 

The Senate made several additional investments in Georgia’s health agencies. The additions include $500,000 for two new community health cetners in Jeff Davis and Marion counties; $834,684 to fund three new positions at the Dept. of Community Health to meet increasing department workload and to improve quality and value in the Medicaid program; and $1 million to advance telehealth capabilities for mental health. For more detailed budget update, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Senate Approves Changes to Fiscal Year 2022 Budget.

The budget is now being reviewed by a conference committee, made up of three House members and three Senate members. This committee will reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget and agree to a final version for both chambers to approve. 

Georgians 16+ eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

All Georgians 16+ now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine!

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Last week Governor Kemp announced that all residents 16 years and older will now be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. There are several options available for scheduling your vaccine and resources available to help you find a location near you.

GHF has you covered!

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

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GHF will continue monitoring legislative activity on a 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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