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Legislative Update: Mental Health Parity Act moves forward, Cover Georgia advocacy day, & lots more!

Legislative update: Week 8

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: Ask your state representative to support the Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • A check-in on the state budget and Crossover Day coming soon!
  • Bills you may not have seen yet
  • Legislation on the move!
  • Advocacy events for your calendar: AIDSWatch in Georgia, the Georgia work credit & Medicaid expansion!
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

THE GEORGIA HOUSE NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE MENTAL HEALTH PARITY ACT!

Ask the Georgia House to vote YES on the Mental Health Parity Act! 

The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the Mental Health Parity Act with modest changes last Wednesday, and the bill is headed to the House floor for a vote as soon as tomorrow, March 8th. You can help ensure the Mental Health Parity Act passes with strong support by calling or emailing your legislators 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 would:

  • 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 your legislators to say why you support this bill and to ask for their strong support too.

What changes did the House HHS committee make to the bill last week? GHF is encouraged that the parity section remains strong and additional language has strengthened it even further. The HHS committee removed the section of the bill that would have set up a registry for children and youth who frequently use mental health or substance use crisis services. Instead it instructs the Governor’s Office of Health Strategy & Coordination to study and develop a coordination strategy for those young people.


CROSSOVER DAY & THE BUDGET

Crossover Day is next week! 

Crossover Day is the 28th day of this year’s Georgia legislative session, which falls on March 15th this year. Crossover Day is the day by which a bill must be passed from the House or Senate to the opposite chamber to remain viable. Bills that do not meet the Crossover Day deadline are officially “dead.” Since this is the second year of the two-year session, any bill that doesn’t crossover must be reintroduced next session. Expect a flurry of activity from the legislature before next week’s deadline!


Senate approves this year’s amended budget 

The Georgia Senate approved changes to the current state budget (amended FY22 budget) last Thursday. The House must now vote to agree to the Senate’s changes. (If the House does not agree, the House & Senate will set up a conference committee to reconcile their budget differences.)

The House continues its consideration of FY23 budget, which begins July 1st of this year. It’s likely that we’ll see the House Appropriations committee vote on its version of the FY23 budget this week, ahead of next week’s Crossover Day deadline. 


LEGISLATION YOU MAY NOT HAVE SEEN YET


Keeping Georgians covered even when the COVID-19 public health emergency officially ends  

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress prohibited states from disenrolling people from Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program (called “PeachCare” in Georgia). This decision kept children and adults from becoming uninsured during a global pandemic and while families were experiencing so many other life changes. When the President lets the public health emergency (PHE) declaration expire, many Georgia children, moms who have given birth since March 2020, and others will be at risk of losing their health insurance as the state “redetermines” who is eligible for Medicaid & PeachCare. (There is date set for the end of the PHE at this time.) 

Representative Matthew Wilson’s HB 1273 aims to prevent thousands of Georgians from ending up uninsured. The Department of Community Health (DCH) would be required to establish a Medicaid Continuity of Coverage Program. DCH would be required to automatically re-enroll Medicaid members if they are still eligible. The bill requires outreach programs to be established through DCH or Medicaid insurers to help Georgians navigate the re-determination process or enroll in other health insurance if they qualify. DCH has shared that they are already implementing some of the activities outlined in HB 1273. 

HB 1273 has been referred to the House Health & Human Services Committee but has not yet been granted a hearing. Learn more about what the end of the public health emergency means for the health coverage of Georgia children here.

Pharmacy benefits management moved to be handled by the Dept. of Community Health 

HB 1351, co-sponsored by Representative David Knight, is heading to a floor vote on Tuesday. The bill would reform the way that prescription drugs are covered within Georgia’s Medicaid program. Currently, each Medicaid insurer sets its own list of covered medications (called a drug formulary). HB 1351 would instead require the Deprtment of Community Health to create a central shared drug formlary that all Medicaid insurers would use.  Rep. Knight says that this change would save money in the Medicaid program, streamline access to medicine for Medicaid members and providers, and make Medicaid more transparent. 

HB 1351 was approved by the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care in late February. It was scheduled for a vote by the ful House last week but the vote was postponed.

“Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act”

Co-sponsored by Senator Ben Watson, SB 403 is known as the “Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act”. The bill works to decrease risk to Georgians having a mental health crisis when they interact with police officers, and to relieve police officers from handling mental health calls without the proper support and resources. HB 403 would require both law enforcement and mental health professionals to respond to mental health situations together. It would also require community service boards (Georgia’s mental health safety net system) to work with law enforcement agencies to develop co-responder training programs and co-responder teams. 

SB 403 would also coordinate well with the provisions in the Mental Health Parity Act that address mental health  in the criminal legal system.

The Senate passed SB 403 last week. The bill has been referred to the House HHS Committee.


LEGISLATION THAT’S ON THE MOVE

House approves bills on public data for state health plans, child lead exposure, & vaping. Senate votes to ban abortion care in the mail.

If these bills look familiar, it’s because we’ve covered them in previous legislative updates (which you can always find on our blog). HB 1276, HB 1348, and HB 1351 were all passed by the House last week. The Senate voted along party lines to approve SB 456.  With so many bills on the move in the legislature, here’s a reminder about what’s in each bill. 

HB 1276 requires the Department of Community Health to post data on their website about Medicaid, Peach Care for Kids, and the State Health Benefit Plan. Required data includes the numbers of doctors and other health providers in each plan, the use of hospital services and resulting costs, prescription drug spending, and more. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lee Hawkins, says the bill will make Georgia’s public insurance plans more transparent. 

Following the House’s approval, the Senate referred the bill to the Insurance & Labor Committee.

HB 1355,the Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act, would align Georgia’s blood lead level recommendations with federal recommendations for children. It would also trigger state action if 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.

Check out this fact sheet about childhood lead poisoning from Voices for Georgia’s Children.

HB 1348 would add vaping to the Georgia Smoke-free Air Act. The change would prohibit vaping in the same public areas that smoking is currently prohibited in Georgia (most public buildings and work places).

Check out our Feb. 28th legislative update for more information about the health risks of vaping and its prevalence among young people in Georgia.

SB 456 would prohibit medication abortion pills from being mailed while: 1) Requiring an in-person doctor’s visit, ultrasound, and additional consent before the medication can be prescribed, and 2) Pushing physicians to give medically inaccurate advice on the reversibility of medication abortion.

The federal Food & Drug Administration allows patients to have a telehealth appointment with a provider who can prescribe the pills and then send the medication to them by mail. SB 456 would prevent Georgians from accessing FDA-approved health care.

After the Senate’s passage of SB 456, the House referred the bill to its Health & Human Services committee.


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:

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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