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Legislative Update: House finishes its budget work, plus rural health, primary care, & surprise billing legislation

Legislative update: Week 9

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:

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  • House passes the Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • A check-in on the state budget and Crossover Day is Tuesday!
  • Bills you may not have seen yet
  • Legislation on the move!
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

MENTAL HEALTH PARITY ACT PASSED THE HOUSE!

The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act passed the House last week! 

The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act (GMHPA) passed the House last Tuesday with an overwhelming & bi-partisan 169-3 vote. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and will receive its first Senate hearing today, March 14th, at 3pm. 

The GMHPA is a big bill so the Senate HHS committee will likely hold several hearings before voting on it. While our Senators hear and debate the bill, you can help. Call or email committee members and ask them to keep “parity” in the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act.

Parity means fair or equal. It’s time for health insurance companies to play fair. The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act would put in place strong, fair rules so Georgians get the mental health & addiction coverage we need (and pay for).

Want to do more?


PROGRESS ON BOTH BUDGETS

Tomorrow is Crossover Day! 

Crossover Day is the 28th day of the 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 Tuesday’s deadline!

After tomorrow’s Crossover Day votes, we’ll provide a full update about which bills were approved to move forward, and which bills were left on this session’s cutting room floor. Look for that full rundown in next week’s legislative update email!


Amended budget goes to the Governor; House passes FY23 budget

The Georgia House of Representatives gave its final approval to this year’s updated state budget (amended FY22 budget) on Wednesday. With approvals from the House & the Senate, the amended FY22 budget now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature. 

On Thursday, the House Appropriations committee released its version of the FY23 budget, which will begin on July 1, 2022. The House made some important additions to the Governor’s budget recommendations. Check out our February 28th legislative update for a reminder about what the budget already included. Here are a few changes that the House made:

  • $4.5 million to extend Medicaid to uninsured, low-income individuals living with HIV. This funding would pay for the costs of HB 1192, if it is passed by the Senate. 
  • $1.2 million to extend Medicaid coverage to some lawful, permanent residents. Under current Medicaid policy, lawful permanent residents are only eligible for coverage after a 5-year waiting period. The Department of Community Health will apply for an 1115 waiver to eliminate the waiting period, as 35 other states have done.
  • $800,000 to continue implementation of Georgia’s All-Payer Claims Database. This database is a powerful tool that can help policymakers, advocates, and health care industry stakeholders, develop better understandings of health care costs, use of services, population health trends, and disparities. You can keep up with the development of Georgia’s APCD here.
  • $127,000 to create a new Mental Health Parity Coordinator position in the Department of Insurance. This position will ensure insurance companies are covering mental health and substance use for their members in fair and transparent ways. 

The House approved its version of the FY23 budget on Friday. The Senate Appropriations subcommittees began meeting this morning to consider the FY23 budget. 


LEGISLATION YOU MAY NOT HAVE SEEN

Grant program to establish primary care facilities in shortage areas

HB 1042, sponsored by Rep. Rick Jasperse and would create a grant program to establish primary care facilities in areas with shortages of primary care providers. The grant program would be operated by the OneGeorgia Authority. Local government bodies (called development authorities) would be eligible to apply for the grants. The grants can be used to establish a doctor’s office or other primary care medical facility. The development authorities would then partner with one or more primary care providers (dentist, doctor, or mental health provider) to operate the primary care facilities. After 10 years, the development authority could choose to turn the ownership of the facility over to the primary care providers directly.

HB 1042 passed out of the House last Tuesday and has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.


Bill to develop the Rural Health Advancement Commission

HB 1371 would create the Rural Health Advancement Commission. The purpose of this commission is to look at “private-sector solutions” to address health and long-term care workforce shortages, with an emphasis on rural areas. The solutions may include collaborations between health care systems and educational institutions.

The commission’s members would include a Dean of a medical college, a rural facilities a rural physician, the director of the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, nurses, a representative from an area health education center, hospital leaders, and a public health professional, among others.

HB 1371 passed out of the House last Wednesday. It hasn’t yet been referred to a Senate committee.


Senate bill adds mental health & substance use to Georgia’s Surprise Billing & Consumer Protection Act

SB 566, introduced by Senators Dean Burke and Chuck Hufstetler, would update the Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act. These updates include:

  • Clarifying that emergency mental health and substance use care is covered under the Surprise Billing & Consumer Protection Act.
  • This update means that a person who goes to the emergency room for a mental health or substance use treatment would be protected from “surprise” out-of-network bills, even if they are at an out-of-network hospital. (These protections do not apply to facilities outside of a hospital.)
  • Adding a reference to the new federal surprise billing law. The reference narrows when post-stabilization care is protected from surprise billing.

Why are these updates important?

Surprise medical bills can take a big financial toll on a family and are one of the leading drivers of medical debt. Adding MH/SUD crises treatment to the list of covered emergency services will ensure that these conditions are protected from surprise billing just as a physical health emergency is.

SB 566 has passed out of the Senate HHS Committee. The Senate Rules committee will decide if it receives a vote on the Senate floor before tomorrow’s Crossover Day deadline.


LEGISLATION THAT’S MOVING

House approves bills on primary care facilities, prescription drugs coverage in Medicaid, & health care workforce shortages. Grant program to establish primary care facilities in shortage areas

If these bills look familiar, it’s because we’ve covered them in previous legislative updates (which you can always find on our blog). With so many bills on the move in the legislature, here’s a reminder about what’s in HB 1351 and HB 1404. 


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

HB 1351, sponsored by Representative David Knight, passed out of the House last week. 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 (DCH) to create a central shared drug formlary that all Medicaid insurers would use. Rep. Knight says that this change would save the Georgia Medicaid program $3.9 million, streamline access to medicine for Medicaid members and providers, and make Medicaid more transparent. 

HB 1351 was approved by the House last week. It has not yet been referred to a Senate committee.


Allowing certain inpatient mental health & addiction recovery 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 are in-patient mental health or substance use recovery facilities with 16 or more beds. Current federal regulations bar Medicaid from covering treatment at IMDs because of our country’s cruel history of institutionalizing people with mental illness. 

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 Medicaid. You can learn more about IMD reform here from our partners at the Legal Action Center.

HB 1404 was approved by the House HHS Committee. The House Rules committee will decide if the bill gets a vote on the floor before the end of Crossover Day.


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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