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Legislative Update: Legislative Update: Keep calling your Reps for mental health parity, budget updates, more treatment for those with HIV, vaping ban, and more!

Legislative update: Week 7

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • Action Alert: You still have time to contact the House HHS committee to support the Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • A check-in on the state budget
  • Legislation about increasing coverage for Georgians with HIV, vaping ban, a bill banning COVID-19 vaccine “passports” passes out of the Senate, and much more! 
  • Advocacy events for your calendar: President Biden’s State of the Union address & the Georgia work credit
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

THE HOUSE HHS COMMITTEE STILL NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE MENTAL HEALTH PARITY ACT!

Show your support for the Mental Health Parity Act! Call or email today!

The Mental Health Parity Act had its second hearing in the House Health & Human Services Committee this past Wednesday. During the hearing, the bill’s authors ran through changes made to the bill since the last hearing. GHF is encouraged that the parity section remains strong and additional language has strengthened it even further.  

You can help ensure the Mental Health Parity Act passes with strong support by calling or emailing committee members and asking them to unanimously pass the bill!

The Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) is a big bill that would make mental health & substance use (MH/SU) services easier to access and afford in our state. It would put recovery in reach for many more Georgians. Here’s a fact sheet that explains the major parts of the bill. Two of our favorite parts: includes six big sections that:

  • Require private and public health insurers to provide coverage for MH/SU disorder equal to how they cover other health conditions
  • Establish a minimum level of spending on health services (versus administration or marketing) that Medicaid insurers must meet

Please call or email the House HHS committee members to say why you support this bill and to ask for their strong support too.

Want to do more? Call or email your own legislators and ask for their support for the Mental Health Parity Act too!


HOUSE HEATH APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS FY23 BUDGET

Budget meetings began for the FY23 budget 

After its approval of changes to the current state budget (amended FY22), the House has turned its attention to the big budget (FY23 budget), which will begin on July 1, 2022. Two House Appropriations subcommittees held hearings this week. The Health subcommittee heard presentations and testimony on the budgets for the Department of Community Health (DCH) and Department of Public Health (DPH), among others. The Human Services subcommittee hearing included presentations and testimony for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

The Departments’ budget proposals currently include:

Dept. of Community Health

The Department of Community Health (DCH) oversees Medicaid, PeachCare, hospital regulation, and other state health care programs.

  • Total budget: $18 billion. State general funds: $3.9 billion.
  • $39 million increase for implementation of “express lane enrollment,” which automatically enrolls eligible children in the Medicaid program using data & information from other public programs.
  • Increase of $28 million to extend postpartum coverage from six to 12 months after birth or miscarriage
  • $16 million increase for the Indigent Care Trust Fund, which supports rural and other health care providers that serve uninsured Georgians
  • $0 for Governor Kemp’s Pathways waiver, which falls short of Medicaid expansion but could extend coverage to 270,000 Georgians if implemented

Dept. of Public Health

DPH works to provides health services (like vaccinations) through local health departments; oversees health programs that promote health and well-being; and prepare for and respond to emergencies (like COVID-19 or hurricanes) from a health perspective.

  • Total budget: $770 million. State general funds: $335 million.
  • $36.2 million for $5000 cost of living raises for public health (PH) workers in county departments and $4.3 million for the same raises for state PH workers
  • $500,000 for a new comprehensive care management pilot program for high-risk pregnancy populations
  • $9.9 million increase to fill a state funds shortfall for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) 
  • $45,709 in new funds for the third year of a three-year pilot to provide PrEP for individuals at risk of contracting HIV
  • $4.3 million increase to expand the Georgia Regional Coordinating Center’s efforts to coordinate emergency room capacity statewide (a program developed in response to the overwhelming demand for hospital beds during COVID-19)

Dept. of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities

DBHDD provides treatment, support services, and assistance to Georgians with developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders.

  • Total budget: $1.5 billion. State general funds: $1.3 billion.
  • $77.8 million increase for cost of living raises for DBHDD employees. (This makes up about 60% of DBHDD’s budget increase for FY2023.)
  • $3.9 million to fund 200 new slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP), which provide community-based and at-home services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • $1.4 million to increase funds for the Georgia Housing Voucher Program to move more individuals with developmental disabilities out of state hospitals and into communities

Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (aka Dept. of Insurance or DOI)

DOI licenses and regulates insurance companies (including health insurance companies), investigates reports of insurance fraud, and inspects buildings to prevent fire.

  • Total budget: $172.3 million. State general funds: $164.2 million.
  • $124.3 million to fund the new reinsurance program to help lower premiums on the Affordable Care Act marketplace
  • $15.5 million to disconnect Georgia from healthcare.gov and create a new website that directs people to insurance companies or web brokers to shop and enroll instead
  • $0 for a new behavioral health parity coordinator position to make sure insurance companies cover mental health & substance use services fairly compared to other health services

You can find more details about the proposed FY23 state budget from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

The House Appropriations committee will make edits to this version of the FY23 budget before a committee vote. The full House will consider and vote on the FY23 budget on or before March 15th.


NOTABLE LEGISLATION & ACTION FROM LAST WEEK 

House and Senate are well underway with their committee work and considering key legislation. Here are a few bills that we believe deserve your attention and the attention of legislators.

Bill to increase coverage for those living with HIV passed out of House and heads to Senate

HB 1192, sponsored by Representative Sharon Cooper, was approved by the full House this week. 

The bill would direct the Department of Community Health (DCH) to apply for a waiver that would provide Medicaid coverage to uninsured Georgians living with HIV/AIDS who have incomes below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. This proposal would close the coverage gap for 12,567 uninsured Georgians who have been left behind because Georgia leaders have so far refused to expand Medicaid to all low-income adults. It would also save the state $53 million that could be used to better address the HIV epidemic in Georgia.

HB 1192 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.

Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act to better protect children from lead exposure 

Sponsored by Representative Katie Dempsey, HB 1355 is titled the Childhood Led Exposure Control Act and would align Georgia’s blood lead level recommendations with federal recommendations for children. If a child’s blood lead level is above a certain amount, it triggers state action, like a requirement that the source of lead exposure be fixed or replaced. This bill also includes additional funding for more lead inspectors and equipment in a program managed by the Department of Public Health.

Our partners at Voices for Georgia’s Children have published this excellent fact sheet about childhood lead poisoning. 

The House Committee on Health & Human Services (HHS Committee) passed HB 1355 last Thursday.

Two bills—both bad for public health–move forward in the Senate

SB 345, introduced by Senator Jeff Mullis, passed out of the Senate Health & Human Services committee this week. The bill prohibits state and local governments from mandating proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for public services and access to public buildings. The bill was revised to clarify the ban extends only to COVID-19 vaccines and the ban expires on June 30, 2023.

SB 345 now sits in the Senate Rules Committee before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote.


SB 435, sponsored by Senator Marty Harbin, would ban transgender youth from playing on a team that does not match the gender on their birth certificate. After a contentious and emotional debate, the Senate approve SB 435 along party lines. The bill now moves to the House.

GHF opposes SB 435 because of the negative impacts it would have on Georgia children of all gender identities. It will be especially harmful to the mental health & well-being of transgender children and youth. We are saddened by the Senate’s approval of such a bill.

Connect with Georgia Equality for advocacy opportunities and updates about SB 435. If you or someone you may know needs more information or resources for transgender Georgians, start here.

Allowing certain inpatient mental health facilities to be reimbursed by Medicaid

HB 1404, introduced by Representative Robert Pruitt, would direct the Georgia Department of Community Health to apply for a federal waiver for institutions for mental diseases (IMDs) to receive Medicaid reimbursement. IMDs is a term used for in-patient mental health or substance use recovery facilities with 16 or more beds and current federal regulations bar Medicaid from covering IMD treatment. 

Thirty-two (32) states have a version of this waiver so that their Medicaid members can access in-patient (or residential) substance use or mental health services.

Rep. Pruitt’s bill would do the same, opening up access to inpatient mental health and/or substance use treatment for Georgians covered by Medicaidl. You can learn more about IMD reform here from our partners at the Legal Action Center.

HB 1404 has been referred to the House HHS Committee.

Bill would add vaping to public smoking ban

Introduced by Representative Bonnie Rich, HB 1348 would add vaping to the Georgia Smoke-free Air Act. The change would prohibit vaping in the same areas that smoking is currently prohibited in Georgia (). Georgia’s smoking ban was put in place in 2005, well before vaping became popular.

Seventeen percent (17%) of Georgia high schoolers report vaping. Because vaping products include nicotine, vaping can lead to addiction (just like cigarettes). It may also lead to lung disease.

The House HHS Committee approved HB 1348 last week. The House Rules Committee will now decide when the bill will go to the House floor for a vote.


This week’s advocacy events

Check out these advocacy days:

man in group setting

Each week during the legislative session, we’ll highlight legislative advocacy days from partner groups. These are great opportunities for you to participate in the lawmaking process by meeting your legislators and speaking up about important issues. Upcoming:

  • March 1: President Biden’s State of the Union address—follow #SOTU or #South4MedEx and join the Southerners for Medicaid Expansion in calling on Congress to close the coverage gap in our states
  • March 9: Save The Date: Georgia Work Credit Virtual Rally with Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
  • March 10: Cover Georgia advocacy day for Medicaid expansion 

If you have an upcoming advocacy event that you’d like included, please contact Alex McDoniel at amcdoniel@healthyfuturega.org


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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