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GHF legislative update: March 13

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:

  • Action alert: Urge Senators to support HB 520!
  • Amended FY23 and FY24 budget updates 
  • Biomarker bill gets Senate committee approval
  • TANF for pregnant women 
  • Advocacy events for your calendar
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!


New mental health bill will be heard in Senate committee today

A subcommittee of the Senate Health & Human Service committee will hear HB 520 this afternoon at 2 pm. Please call HHS committee members now to ask that they support the bill! 

HB 520 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). 

Similar to last year’s mental health bill, this bill has been the subject of misinformation and stigma. It is very important that state Senators hear from you with your support!

If you don’t know what to say when you call, use this example: “My name is ________ and I live in your district. Please vote YES on House Bill 520 when it comes to the Senate Health and Human Services committee for a vote this afternoon. It will help Georgians who need mental health and substance use services more easily access and afford those services. Thank you!”


FY23 Amended Budget 

On Monday, the House and Senate agreed to the amended FY23 budget, which runs through June 30th. The final version of the amended FY23 budget contains only a few major changes from the House’s version of the budget. One such change is a premium increase for non-certified school staff on the state-health benefit plan. The state increased funds by $50 million to gradually phase-in the premium increase over three years. School districts will also pay more for these premium increases in the monthly per-person employer contributions.Now that the amended budget has been passed, it goes to the Governor for his signature.

FY24 Budget 

This week the House released and passed its version of the FY24 budget. The House uses the Governor’s proposed budget as a starting point and makes changes as they see fit. (You can read our earlier overview of the Governor’s and state agencies’ FY24 budget request here.)

Intoday’s legislative update, we’ll highlight some of the House’s changes to health-related budget items.The budget now goes to the Senate.

  • Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
    • Increase funds for additional COMP and NOW waiver slots. The House included $8.1 million for 375 new waivers, up from the 250 slots proposed by the Governor
      • NOW & COMP waivers allow people with IDD to receive community-based services. Even with these new slots, 7,000 Georgians with IDD will remain on the waiting list for a waiver
    • Add $2 million for the Georgia Housing Voucher support program to help the state meet requirements set out by the Department of Justice after Georgia failed to safely and appropriately provide housing options for Georgians with serious mental health needs and developmental disabilities
      • The Governor’s budget did not include this funding
      • The Housing Voucher Program is a state-run permanent supportive housing program that enables Georgians meeting certain eligibility requirements to obtain safe and affordable housing. The program also provides support services to help these individuals remain in their housing
    • Add an additional $2.7 million for the Georgia Consumer Mental Health Network for peer support services
      • This funding was not included in the Governor’s budget
  • Department of Community Health
    • Increased funds by $750,000 for start-up grants for three federally run qualified health centers (FQHCs)
      • These funds were not included in the Governor’s budget
      • The funding would go towards establishing a new primary care clinic in Union City, a school-based health center in Emanuel county, and a behavioral health expansion at Christ Community Health Clinic in Augusta
    • Increase funds by $2.7 million to provide dental coverage for adults on Medicaid
      • This funding was not included in the Governor’s budget
      • Currently, Medicaid only covers emergency dental services for adults on Medicaid. Allowing Medicaid to reimburse for preventive and routine dental care will allow low-income parents, pregnant women, and adults with disabilities to access much needed oral health care
    • Increase funds by $600,000 to remove the 5-year waiting period for pregnant women and children who are lawful permanent residents
      • This funding was not included in the Governor’s budget
      • Currently, lawful permanent residents are subject to a 5-year waiting period before they are eligible to apply for Medicaid, even when they would otherwise be eligible. Removing this waiting period means that immigrants who legally live in Georgia will be able to access quality health care through the state’s Medicaid program
    • Increase funds by $19 million to increase provider reimbursements (payments) for certain Medicaid-covered primary care and OBGYN services to 2021 Medicare levels
      • This funding was not included in the Governor’s budget
      • Traditionally, Medicaid reimburses at a lower rate than Medicare, which means that providers have less of an incentive to see Medicaid patients. By bringing up reimbursement rates to Medicare levels, providers will receive equitable payment for seeing Medicaid patients. The increased incentive is meant to prompt more providers accept Medicaid patients and, thus, improve access for Medicaid members
  • Department of Human Services
    • Increase funds by $11 million to make permanent DFCS positions from the FY23 budget. The additional 450 caseworkers, 75 supervisors, and 1 district manager will process Medicaid redeterminations during the Medicaid unwinding
      • The Governor’s budget requested $3.2 million for an additional 300 caseworkers.
      • Starting April 1, DFCS will begin Medicaid redeterminations for almost all 2.7 million Medicaid members. These additional caseworkers are essential for this massive undertaking. Increased caseworkers will reduce the number of Georgians who become uninsured due to administrative errors
  • Department of Public Health
    • Increase funds by $1.7 million for a pilot home visiting program for at-risk and rural communities during pregnancy and early childhood to improve birth outcomes, reduce pre-term births, and decrease infant and maternal motality
      • The Governor’s budget did not include this funding
    • This is one of GHF’s public health priorities!
    • Voice’s for Georgia’s Children has some great information on home visiting programs here


Improving insurance coverage for biomarker testing  

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved HB 85 last week. The bill now heads to Senate Rules committee before it can go to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Introduced by Representative Sharon Cooper, HB 85  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. Once the specific biomarkers have been identified, doctors are able to select the right medication without having to try other, less-effective drugs first.


Expanding TANF for families  

Last Tuesday, the Senate passed HB 129. It now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature to become law.

Introduced by Representative Hong Soo, HB 129 would expand Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to pregnant women who meet TANF eligibility criteria. TANF is a cash assistance program for families with children and with very low incomes. To be eligible for TANF, adults must meet a 30-hour-a-week work requirement on top of other activity and financial obligations. TANF benefits are about $280 per month for a family of 3 (which is about 15% of the federal poverty level).

Very few families in Georgia receive TANF, and the program only serves 5 in 100 Georgia residents living in poverty.


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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