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GHF legislative update: March 6

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:

  • New mental health bill passes house!
  • Modernizing the TANF program
  • Better housing for Georgians!
  • Crossover Day: legislation we are watching ahead of today’s deadline! 
  • Advocacy events for your calendar
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

NEW MENTAL HEALTH BILL PASSES HOUSE!

Mental health bill moving onto the Senate! 

HB 520, this year’s mental health reform bill, received the approval of the Georgia House and will be considered by the Senate after Crossover Day.  

This bill was introduced by Representatives Mary Margaret Oliver and Todd Jones and seeks to build on last year’s sweeping Georgia Mental Health Parity Act. HB 520 aims to address the statewide shortage of mental health providers, understand the capacity for in-patient mental health and substance use treatment, streamline the ways that state agencies involved in behavioral health can share data, and address the needs of so-called “familiar faces” (people that cycle between homelessness, jails, and hospitals due to serious mental illness). The bill also expands the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission (BHRIC) to include two “peer support specialists.”

HB 520 also directs DBHDD and DCH to develop an 1115 waiver to use Medicaid funds to provide housing, employment, and nutrition supports, as well as case management, outreach, and education to Medicaid members. This type of waiver is intended to address the non-medical needs of Medicaid members that impact their health and reduce health disparities. These kinds of needs are sometimes called the social determinants of health (SDOH).

INCREASING ASSISTANCE FOR GEORGIA FAMILIES

Expanding access to cash assistance for families 

HB 565, introduced by Representative Tyler Paul Smith, increases the asset cap and lifetime maximum benefit period for Georgia’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a cash assistance program for families with children and with very low incomes. Very few families in Georgia receive TANF benefits, which come to about $280 per month for a family of 3 (which is about 15% of the federal poverty level). The program only serves 5 in 100 Georgia residents living in poverty, in part because the eligibility requirements are so strict.

To be eligible for TANF, adults must meet a 30-hour-a-week work requirement on top of other activity and financial obligations. Under current law, they cannot own assets, such as a car, that are worth more than $1,000. This limit forces some TANF recipients to sell their cars or other assets to remain eligible, making it even more likely they will continue to struggle financially. Additionally, Georgians can only receive TANF for 48 months total in their lifetime. This lifetime enrollment limit means that TANF recipients can no longer access critical cash assistance even if their income remains unchanged. 

HB 565 would increase the lifetime maximum benefit period to 60 months, allowing for another year of benefits. It also increases the asset cap to $5,000. The bill is intended to modernize Georgia’s TANF program and complement HB 129’s expansion of TANF for pregnant women.

HB 565 passed out of the House Public Health committee. The House Rules Committee has not yet put HB 565 on today’s voting calendar to receive a House floor vote ahead of today’s crossover deadline.


BETTER HOUSING FOR GEORGIA TENANTS

HB 404: The Safe at Home Act

HB 404, known as The Safe at Home Act, was introduced by Representative Kasey Carpenter. The bill would give enforceable rights and protections to renters in Georgia. HB 404 would require landlords to ensure rental homes are “fit for human habitation.” The bill also increases protections for tenants facing eviction for falling a few days behind on rent.

While HB 404’s progress through the House is encouraging, the bill is far from perfect. Two key improvements that we hope to see in the Senate include: 1) Setting a meaningful standard for what “fitness for human habitation” means and establishing consumer protections if a unit does not meet the standard; and 2) Expanding the requirement to notify renters from those who fall slightly behind on rent to other reasonable circumstances like falling behind on utility payments.

(Want to know more about how housing & health are connected? Take a look at GHF’s Healthy Housing page.)

HB 404 has passed the House unanimously and heads to the Senate for a committee assignment.


CROSSOVER DAY ACTION

Today is the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, which is also referred to as Crossover Day. Crossover Day is the final day for a bill to cross from its chamber of origin to the opposite chamber to remain viable for this legislative session. 

Below is a rundown of the consumer health legislation that GHF has covered so far in these weekly legislative updates. This list is sorted by bill status. “Crossed over” means the bill has already met today’s deadline and is still active for this legislative session.

Bills that have been passed by the committee to which they were assigned fall into two categories: 1) those that are scheduled for a vote by the House or Senate today, and 2) those that the Rules committees have not put on the House or Senate voting calendars…yet. Look for two action alerts below related to these bills! The Rules committees are where the action is today!

Bills at the end of our list did not receive a committee hearing or a vote and are likely dead for this session. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here

Please note that Crossover Day moves quickly so all information below is only as current as the timestamp on this email. Follow GHF and #gapol on social media for the latest updates! 


HB 85: Expanding insurance coverage for biomarker testing 

CROSSED OVER 

HB 85, introduced by Representative Sharon Cooper, would require insurance companies to cover comprehensive biomarker testing. Biomarker testing allows patients to receive treatments for diseases, like cancer, that are tailored to the genetic make-up of the disease. The House has passed HB 85 and it has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services committee.


HB 129: Expanding assistance to Georgia families

CROSSED OVER

HB 129 has been introduced by Representative Hong Soo, one of Governor Kemp’s floor leaders. The bill would expand Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to pregnant women who meet TANF eligibility criteria. Under current TANF rules, pregnant women cannot receive benefits.

HB 129 passed the House and passed out of the Senate Children and Families committee, awaiting a hearing in Senate Rules committee. 


HB 295: Updates to Georgia’s surprise billing law

CROSSED OVER

HB 295, introduced by Representative Lee Hawkins, would update Georgia’s surprise billing law to address a few implementation issues that have arisen now that the law has been in place for two years. The changes are primarily around the provider-insurer arbitration process and do not impact consumer protections from surprise out-of-network medical bills.

HB 295 was passed by the House and is awaiting a Senate committee assignment.


SB 47: Updating vaping regulations

CROSSED OVER

SB 47, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, would update the Indoor Air Quality Act.The changes would prohibit vaping in the same areas that smoking is currently banned in Georgia. Georgia’s smoking ban was put in place in 2005, well before vaping became popular. 

This bill passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House Public Health committee


SB 65: Allowing Georgia to set-up a state-run ACA marketplace

CROSSED OVER

SB 65, introduced by Sen. Ben Watson, would allow Georgia to establish its own state-based marketplace (SBM) for health insurance. The bill also allows the Commissioner of Insurance to create an advisory committee to provide recommendations for establishing an SBM. Lastly, it removes the ban on state entities, including the University of Georgia, from operating health insurance navigator programs.

SB 65 has already been approved by the Senate and crossed over. It was passed by the House Insurance committee last week. We expect SB 65 to receive a vote on the House floor later this week. 


HB 226: Medicaid coverage for persons with HIV – ACTION ALERT

PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE AND AWAITING A HOUSE VOTE

HB 226 would expand Medicaid to uninsured Georgians living with HIV. Currently, uninsured Georgians living with HIV can receive medications to manage the disease through the Ryan White Program’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). The bill was recommitted to the House Public Health Committee last week for revisions. The committee lowered the income limit to 100% of the federal poverty level (down from 138% FPL).

This bill passed out of the House Public Health Committee. The House Rules committee has not yet scheduled HB 226 for a House vote today. Call the Rules committee members now to ask that they move HB 226 to the House floor for a vote today! 


HB 343: Lowering Prescription Drug Costs for Patients Act – ACTION ALERT 

AMENDED AND PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE. AWAITING A HOUSE VOTE.

HB 343, introduced by Representative Mark Newton, would change requirements for pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs). The Lowering Prescription Drug Costs for Patients Act would require PBMs to pass the discounts receive from drug makers down to consumers, possibly lowering out of pocket prescription prices. The House Health committee originally approved the bill with the requirement that PBMs pass 80% of their savings to consumers. The House Rules committee sent HB 343 back to the Health committee with a request that it be amended to 50%. The House Health committee lowered the requirement as requested and approved the bill again. The lower 50% threshold is disappointing but there is an opportunity to restore it to 80% in the Senate.

The House Rules committee has not yet scheduled HB 343 for a House vote today. Call the Rules committee members now to ask that they move HB 343 to the House floor for a vote today! 


SB 20: The Consumer Access to Contracted Healthcare (CATCH) Act

PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE AND AWAITING A SENATE VOTE

SB 20 was introduced by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick and is titled the Consumer Access to Contracted Healthcare (CATCH) Act. The original intention of the CATCH Act was to set network adequacy standards for insurers and provides consumers with protections when they are forced to go out of a health plan’s network of providers to access timely care. The bill was changed by the Senate Insurance committee, which removed the consumer protections and did not add in measurable network adequacy standards to which insurance companies can be held accountable.

GHF is disappointed by these changes. If SB 20 is approved by the Senate today, GHF will work to restore the most important parts as it is considered by the House. SB 20 is scheduled for a Senate vote today.


SB 140: Banning gender-affirming surgery for minors

PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE AND AWAITING A SENATE VOTE

SB 140 would ban gender-affirming health care for minors. Under the current version of SB 140, any physician that performs surgery or prescribes hormone replacement therapy to alter the primary or secondary characteristics of a minor would be subject to administrative action by the licensing board.

The Senate Health and Human Services committee approved SB 140 last week and the bill is scheduled to receive a floor vote today.

Please follow our partners at Georgia Equality for the latest updates and action alerts on SB 140.


SB 162: Certificate of Need Reform

PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE AND AWAITING A SENATE VOTE

SB 162, introduced by Senator Ben Watson, would repeal Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) requirement for hospitals and certain other health care facilities. It would replace CON with a new “special health care services license.”

The bill was passed by the Senate Regulated Industries committee. The Senate Rules Committee has not yet put SB 162 on the voting calendar for today.


HB 37: Reducing Medicaid coverage losses during the upcoming Medicaid unwinding

NO ACTION TAKEN

HB 37, introduced by House Minority Leader James Beverly and co-sponsored by almost all minority-party officers, will require the Department of Community Health (DCH) to devote sufficient resources to conducting Medicaid redeterminations during the Medicaid unwinding, which will begin April 1st.

This bill was referred to House Public Health committee, but did not receive a hearing.


HB 38: Medicaid expansion

NO ACTION TAKEN

HB 38 was introduced by House Minority Leader James Beverly with the same co-sponsors as HB 37. The bill would expand Medicaid to uninsured, low-income adults, as originally intended by the Affordable Care Act. 

This bill was referred to House Public Health committee, but did not receive a hearing.


HB 62: Georgia Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) Act

NO ACTION TAKEN

HB 62, led by Rep. Sam Park, is titled the Georgia Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) Act. HB 62 would expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults (similar to HB 38). It would additionally create an work readiness program for Medicaid members, supported by the Georgia Department of Labor. 

This bill was referred to House Public Health committee, but did not receive a hearing.


HB 79 and SB 118: Georgia Work and Family Credit Act

NO ACTION TAKEN

HB 79 and SB 118, sponsored by Rep. Sam Park and Sen. Elena Parent respectively, would create a state earned income tax credit. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a public health intervention that boosts incomes and health outcomes for low-wage workers and families. Policies like the EITC can lessen the impact of poverty on the health of Georgians and reduce racial health gaps. 

HB 79 was referred to House Ways and Means committee and SB 118 was referred to the Senate Finance committee. Neither bill received a hearing.


HB 191: Increasing the tobacco tax

DID NOT RECEIVE A COMMITTEE VOTE

HB 191, introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens, would raise Georgia’s tobacco tax by 20 cents. This would increase the current tax from 37 cents to 57 cents. The revenue from this increase could be appropriated for smoking prevention and other health improvement efforts across Georgia. 

This bill received a hearing in the Tax Revision Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means committee. GHF and many of our consumer and physician partners testified in support of increasing the state tobacco tax because of its effectiveness for lowering smoking rates among low-income and young Georgians. The subcommittee did not vote on HB 191. 


HB 192: Increasing the vaping tax

DID NOT RECEIVE A COMMITTEE VOTE  

HB 192, introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens, would increase the tax for vaping products. Vaping products are currently taxed at 7% and HB 192 would increase the tax to 15%. 

The Tax Revision Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means committee heard this bill at the same time as HB 191. GHF and our partners expressed our shared support for HB 192, but the subcommittee did not vote on the bill. 


HB 284: Changing health care sharing ministries requirements

NO ACTION TAKEN

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. This bill would have put consumers at greater risk of being underinsured and weakened Georgia’s health insurance marketplace.

HB 284 was referred to House Ways and Means committee, but did not receive a hearing.


SB 141: Banning hormonal treatments for transgender youth

NO ACTION TAKEN

SB 141 would also ban gender-affirming health care for minors. SB 141 specifically bans hormonal treatments, which are often medically necessary for transgender youth for their mental health and well-being. 

The Senate Health and Human Services committee moved parts of this bill to SB 140 during a hearing. SB 140 is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor today.


SB 198: Creation of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission

NO ACTION TAKEN

SB 198, introduced by Senators Harrell and Albers, would create the Georgians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission. 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.

SB 198 was referred to Senate Health and Human Services committee, but did not receive a hearing.


OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVOCACY!

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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