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GHF legislative update: February 20

Legislative update: Week 6

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:

  • Changes to health care sharing ministries
  • Budget updates
  • New legislation on prescription drug costs, state earned-income tax credit and IDD commission
  • Legislation on the move
  • Advocacy events for your calendar
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!


Changing health care sharing ministries requirements

HB 284, introduced by Representative Beth Camp, would expand the kinds of organizations that can establish health care sharing ministries and would allow the full amount each member paid for “shares” each year to be tax-deductible on their Georgia income tax.

Health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) are a form of health coverage in which members – who typically share a religious belief – make monthly payments to cover health care expenses of other members. HCSMs have gained popularity in recent years, especially among younger and healthier people, as a way to cut down on the cost of health insurance while still complying with the requirement to have health insurance (before the requirement was essentially removed). However, HCSMs do not have to comply with the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including covering the 10 essential health benefits. HCSMs do not guarantee which health care services they pay for, so members are not guaranteed coverage if they become sick or ill. For example, these plans may refuse to cover substance use treatment or contraception.

HB 284 would expand Georgia’s definition of HCSMs so that almost any non-profit (those with a 501(c)3 designation) that shares “a common set of ethical or religious beliefs” can establish and be recognized as an HCSM. Previously only faith-based organizations could establish HCSMs. Additionally, the bill would allow for the member shares paid into the HCSM to be tax-deductible on state income taxes, thus incentivizing people to join an HCSM over more comprehensive and protective health insurance. 

GHF opposes this legislation because it will likely increase the number of consumers who are enrolled in poor quality health insurance with few protections. Those Georgians would be unable to access quality, affordable health care services.

HB 284 has been referred to the House Ways and Means committee.


Budget check: Last week, House Appropriations committees heard from state agency heads about budget requests for the FY24 budget. The Health Appropriations and Human Services Appropriations subcommittees heard from the Department of Community Health, Public Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Human Services among others. You can find recordings of the meetings here.

The Senate continues to hold appropriations hearings on the amended FY23 budget. GHF has advocated for additional funding in the Department of Human Services in the AFY23 budget to retain existing staff and hire more additional staff to manage the unprecedented number of Medicaid redeterminations that will be processed beginning April 1st. The Medicaid continuous coverage requirement ends on April 1st, which we covered in more detail in the January 23rd legislative update.

Here are a few bills that we believe deserve your attention and the attention of legislators.

Lowering Prescription Drug Costs for Patients Act

HB 343, introduced by Representative Mark Newton, would change requirements for pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs). PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers. In that role, PBMs negotiate prescription drug prices and payments between drug makers, pharmacies, and health insurers. PBMs play a significant, but mostly behind-the-scenes role in determining total drug costs for insurers, shaping patients’ access to medication, and deciding how much pharmacies are paid.

PBMs have come under scrutiny recently–including in the Georgia legislature–for their role in driving up prescription drug costs and ultimately making prescription drugs more expensive for consumers. HB 343 follows several years of efforts by state legislators to better regulate PBMs and hold down prescription costs.

PBMs often receive discounts, known as rebates, from drug makers. Rather than passing these savings down to consumers, PBMs often keep the money. HB 343 would help lower what consumers pay for prescriptions by requiring PBMs to pass on their rebate savings directly to consumers. This requirement would mean that when you visit the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for which your PBM received a manufacturer discount, you would pay less for it.

The House Health Committee has scheduled HB 343 for a hearing this Wednesday, February 22nd at 2 pm

Georgia Work and Family Credit Act

SB 118, introduced by Senator Elena Parent, would create a state earned-income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is a public health intervention that boosts incomes and health outcomes for working people earning low wages. Income has a big influence on health, especially for people with low incomes. People with low or moderate incomes have less access to health services than people with higher incomes. They also struggle to afford other resources that improve health, like stable housing or healthy foods.

Policies like the EITC can lessen the impact of poverty on the health of Georgians and reduce racial health gaps. You can read more about the health benefits of a state-earned income tax credit here.

SB 118 has been referred to Senate Finance committee.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission

SB 198, introduced by Senators Harrell and Albers, would create the Georgians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission. The creation of the commission was one of the recent recommendations of last year’s Senate Study Committee on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Waiver Plan Access. The commission would annually report to the Governor and other state leaders on potential solutions and findings to issues facing Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) including housing, employment, waiver waiting list management, and workforce wages and incentives. The commission would be made up of 22 members, including a family member who is the caregiver of an adult with IDD, an adult with IDD who receives either direct services or self-directed supports, and a representative from a private IDD advocacy organization. The bill has been assigned to Senate Health and Human Services.


Bills on tobacco tax and smoking and vaping regulations received hearings

HB 191 and HB 192 are scheduled for a hearing this Wednesday, Feb. 22nd in the House Ways & Means Tax Revision Subcommittee. Both were introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens and would raise sales taxes on tobacco and nicotine products respectively. HB 191 would increase the tobacco tax by 20 cents (from $0.37 to $0.57). HB 192 would increase the tax for vaping products. Vaping products are currently taxed at 7% and HB 192 would increase the tax to 15%.

Tobacco taxes are one of the most effective policies to reduce smoking rates. To see Georgians quit smoking or vaping, our state would need to raise the tobacco tax by more than the proposed 20 cents. GHF supports an increase of at least $1. Read more about the importance of a tobacco tax increase here. 

GHF is pleased to see an increase in tobacco and vaping products being considered together. By increasing the cost of both products, we would hope that consumers do not simply switch between one product and another when the price goes up. Please call or email to Rep. Ron Stephens to let him know that we appreciate his work on this important issue. You can reach Rep. Stephens at (404) 656-5115 and and ron.stephens@house.ga.gov. (Calls are more effective than emails!)

Medicaid coverage for persons with HIV passed out of committee

HB 226, was approved by the House Public Health committee last Wednesday. The House Rules committee will now need to vote to send the bill to the House floor for a vote. 

HB 226, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would expand Medicaid to uninsured Georgians living with HIV who make less than 138% of the federal poverty level. Currently, uninsured Georgians living with HIV can receive medications to manage the disease through the Ryan White Program’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). ADAP is vital to helping Georgians manage their HIV and prevent new infections. However, Georgia has the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the country, and the program does not receive enough federal and state funding to meet the growing needs of these Georgians. 

State-based marketplace bill approved by Senate

SB 65, sponsored by Sen. Ben Watson, would move Georgia’s health insurance marketplace from healthcare.gov (which is managed and run by the federal government) to a state-based marketplace (SBM). The Senate passed SB 65 last Tuesday. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Insurance, Life & Health Subcommittee on Tuesday, February 21st, at 8 am. Subcommittees are not reliably available to view on a live-stream so you may want to revisit our coverage of this bill in last week’s legislative update here, including testimony from GHF’s Health Policy Analyst, Whitney Griggs. You can watch her 3-minute testimony here and last week’s full Senate Insurance committee hearing here

GHF asked legislators to look beyond the possible cost-savings of an SBM; articulate a set of clear goals for what the SBM should accomplish for Georgia consumers; detail how consumer voices will meaningfully guide the development and on-going management of the SBM; and outline how the legislature will monitor and evaluate the SBM’s progress in the decade to come. 


Check out these advocacy events: 

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 be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, here are tools to help you stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.

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