Legislative Update: Steep budget cuts and significant health bills close 2020 session

Sine Die

Georgia’s 2020 legislative session comes to a close

Friday, June 26, marked the final day of the 2020 Georgia legislative session. This year’s Sine Die (the last day of the legislative session) came after a months-long suspension due to safety concerns over COVID-19. The final two-week legislative sprint brought the approval of a number of bills that will benefit consumers if approved by the Governor. Unfortunately, this progress comes against a backdrop of steep budget cuts that will put many Georgians at risk, especially those who are most marginalized.

Below you will find an overview of the approved state budget, summaries of notable health-related legislation, and short status reports on other health bills. GHF’s legislative tracker is updated so you can check on the health bills you were watching this session.


General Assembly passes FY2021 state budget

Legislators’ primary responsibility upon returning to the state capitol this month was to finish and pass the FY 2021 state budget, which goes into effect this Wednesday, July 1. On Thursday, the Georgia House and Senate passed a state budget that includes $2.2 billion in budget cuts for the FY 2021 budget. Although cuts were reduced from 14% to 10%, the approved budget curtails funds to many critical health care programs and social services. Notable changes to this year’s budget include:

  • Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities: $91 million cut
    • One-third of the cuts ($29 million) comes from adult developmental disability services 
    • Another third ($29.9 million) comes from child and adult mental health services
  • Department of Community Health: Increase of $178 million
    • Increase in funds due to a higher projected growth for Medicaid
    • $19.7 million added to provide six-months of Medicaid coverage for new mothers (see below for more info.)
  • Department of Public Health: $8.2 million cut
    • Funding restored for grants to local health departments
    • No reduction in funding for maternal mortality review board

The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute provides a fuller picture of the budget cuts here. Voice’s for Georgia’s Children also has a relatively easy-to-read version of the budget changes here.


Our priorities

General Assembly passes four bills to reform PBM practices in Georgia 

This year’s Georgia General Assembly took a keen interest in pharmacy benefit managers (commonly called PBMs). PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies. In order to secure lower prices on medications, PBMs have adopted practices that are seen as burdensome by pharmacies, restrictive and hard-to-navigate by consumers, and opaque by elected officials. The following four PBM bills were passed last week in an effort to increase patient access to and decrease costs of medications:

  • HB 918, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, limits the practices of PBMs as they audit pharmacies so that pharmacies can more easily meet audit requests. The bill gives the benefit of the doubt to pharmacies when small or innocuous mistakes are discovered.
  • HB 946, sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight, and SB 313 by Senator Dean Burke are companion bills with the same legislative language. Both bills would require that PBMs count third-party financial assistance or coupons towards a consumer’s out-of-pocket costs when the medicine is a brand-name that 1) does not have a generic or 2) a patient obtained the prescription through step-therapy, prior authorization, or their health insurance plan’s appeals process. This protection will benefit many Georgians with expensive prescriptions. The bills also increase fines on PBMs when they “steer” consumers to specific pharmacies and disallows PBMs from building drug formularies (lists of covered medicines) in a way that discriminates against people with prescription drug needs.
  • HB 991, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hatchet, establishes an oversight committee which will oversee the contracts and subcontracts under the State Health Benefit Plan (covers state employees and their families), Medicaid, and PeachCare for Kids. This legislation aims to increase transparency around the pharmacy benefit managers contracted by these plans. The oversight committee is made of nine members, one of whom must be a consumer covered by one of the state health plans.

Bill to increase taxes and raise the age of purchase for vaping products passes

Multiple pieces of legislation were introduced this year that would change the way Georgia regulates tobacco, vaping devices and other nicotine products. Ultimately, only SB 375, sponsored by Senator Jeff Mullins, saw final passage. The bill will establish a 7% tax on vaping products and would increase the age at which Georgians are allowed to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 years of age. This increase in the so-called “age of purchase” brings state law in line with federal law.


Legislation to establish an All Payer Claims Database passed

SB 482, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, builds on Georgia’s new surprise billing legislation (HB 888). HB 888 authorizes Georgia’s Department of Insurance to establish an all payer claims database (APCD) that will inform the surprise billing payment resolution process. APCDs can be a powerful tool that can also help policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates develop better understandings of health care costs, use of services, population trends, and disparities.

SB 482 goes farther than HB 888 by setting up an advisory body to assist in the creation of the APCD and establishing the purposes of the APCD, among other provisions. The advisory body does not currently include consumer representation. 

The creation of Georgia’s APCD is subject to appropriations. It was not funded in the FY2021 budget but state leaders have expressed optimism about funding it in future state budgets and attracting private funds to help support its development.


Surprise billing legislation awaits Governor’s signature

The Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act (House Bill 888), was recently passed by the General Assembly and now heads to Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

This bill will ban surprise billing in emergency and non-emergency situations beginning January 1, 2021. This success comes after years-long debate among Georgia legislators. Georgians for a Healthy Future and Georgia Watch are pleased to work closely with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices, Chairman Richard Smith, Senator Hufstetler, and Representative Lee Hawkins to finally bring a resolution to Georgia consumers. After the bill is signed by the Governor, GHF & Georgia Watch will monitor and publish more information about how legislation will work and what consumers may expect.

After the bill is signed by the Governor, GHF & Georgia Watch will monitor and publish more information about how the legislation will work and what consumers may expect.


Postpartum Medicaid coverage bill passed and funded

HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth, up from the current 60-day limit. The General Assembly approved the legislation and funding ($19.7 million) last week. HB 1114 now heads to Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

In order for this change to take effect, the Georgia Department of Community Health will need approval from federal health officials.


Sine Die recap

HB 792: Amended FY 2020 Budget | SIGNED BY GOVERNOR HB 792 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2020. The “little budget” has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and been signed by the Governor. The amended budget went into effect on March 17th.


HB 793: FY 2020 Budget | SIGNED BY GOVERNOR HB 793 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. The budget includes several steep cuts to behavioral health and other health care programs. 


HB 719:  Effort to modernize HIV laws | DID NOT PASS HB 719, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, would modernize Georgia’s HIV-related laws and make progress towards decriminalizing HIV. Current Georgia law deems it a felony for people living with HIV to have sex or donate blood without disclosing their status, or for spitting at or using bodily fluids on a law enforcement officer. Under HB 719 only the act of having sex without disclosing a person’s HIV status would remain illegal.


HB 789: Creation of a surprise bill rating system | PASSED HB 789, sponsored by Rep. Mark Newton, would create a surprise bill rating system based upon the number of certain physician specialty groups contracted with a hospital within a health insurer’s network. 


HB 842: Gracie’s Law – organ transplant discrimination | DID NOT PASS HB 842, sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities.


HB 987: Protection of elderly persons | PASSED HB 987, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would increase training requirements for staff members in elderly care facilities and raises the number of staff who would have to be on site at any given time to watch over residents. It would also increase fines for violations or if a facility causes a resident’s death.


SB 303: Georgia Right to Shop Act | PASSED SB 303, sponsored by Senator Ben Watson, Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services committee, would require that health insurers to put on their website an interactive feature that allows consumers to estimate their out of pocket costs for a particular health care service and compare quality metrics between providers, among other things. Insurers would also have to provide a phone number that consumers can call to get the same information. 


SB 352: Online provider directories | DID NOT PASS SB 352, sponsored by Senator Burke, would allow consumers to see providers at in-network rates for their entire plan year, if the provider is listed as in-network at the time a person enrolls in their health plan. The providers included in a consumer’s insurance plan network changes regularly throughout the year and this bill would assure that the provider network advertised at the time of enrollment is the provider network they are able to access all year long.


SB 408: Family Care Act Sunset Removal | PASSED SB 408, sponsored by Senator Brian Strickland, would extend the sunset on the Family Care Act to July 1, 2023. The Family Care Act allows employees to use sick time to care for ill family members. 


GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session and COVID-19
 

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.

GHF is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the information you need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments.


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Legislative Update: Medicaid coverage for new moms, tobacco tax increase, & action on state budget

Legislative Update: Week 11

Final days of 2020 legislative session set as General Assembly debates budget cuts

Last week legislators returned to the Capitol to complete their work on the FY 2021 state budget and address key legislative priorities. On Friday, the Georgia Senate passed a state budget that cuts $2.6 billion in spending during the upcoming year. This budget includes deep cuts to K-12 education and to critical health care programs, which we have detailed below along with next steps in the budget process.

On Saturday, the General Assembly set the calendar for the remainder of the legislative session. Both chambers will convene every day this week and plan to conclude their 2020 business this Friday, June 26th, likely late in the evening.

Don’t miss the bevy of action alerts in this week’s email. Scroll down for actions you can take to make improve Medicaid coverage for new mothers, increase Georgia’s tobacco tax, and protect Georgia’s budget from drastic cuts.


Surprise Billing Legislation Unanimously Approved By Senate

Surprise billing legislation heads to Governor’s desk

Last week, the Georgia Senate unanimously approved the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act (House Bill 888), bringing Georgia one step away from ending onerous surprise medical bills. HB 888 now heads to Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature. The Governor is expected to sign the bill as he pointed to this issue as a high priority during his January State of the State address.

This bill will mark a huge win for Georgians as it will ban surprise billing in emergency and non-emergency situations beginning January 1, 2021. This success comes after years-long debate among Georgia legislators. Georgians for a Healthy Future and Georgia Watch are pleased to work closely with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices, Chairman Richard Smith, Senator Hufstetler, and Representative Lee Hawkins to finally bring a resolution to Georgia consumers.  Please call these leaders and thank them for their support and dedication to this issue:

  • Gov. Brian Kemp: 404-656-1776
  • Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan: 404-656-5030
  • Senator Chuck Hufstetler: 404-656-0034
  • Chairman Richard Smith: 404-656-5141
  • Representative Lee Hawkins: 404-656-7855

Legislation to Extend Postpartum Medicaid Coverage Moves Ahead

Postpartum Medicaid coverage bill heads to Senate floor today

HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. After unanimous approval in the Senate Health and Human Services committee last week, this legislation heads to the Senate floor for a vote today. 

Currently, pregnant women covered by Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after their birth or miscarriage. Due to restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements for Georgia parents and because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults, many mothers who try to apply for Medicaid after the 60 days are ineligible and become uninsured.

Action alert: Contact your state senator now and encourage their support for the passage and funding of this important piece of legislation! The Senate will convene at noon and a vote on HB 1114 is expected soon after.


 Progress on Tobacco Tax Increase

Resolution to increase tobacco tax moves ahead in Senate

On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee approved SR 435, sponsored by Senator Randy Robertson, aimed at increasing the tobacco tax rate from 37 cents to $1.35 per pack. We thank the members of the Senate Finance Committee for their quick action to find and approve new revenue to improve health in Georgia. Raising Georgia’s tobacco tax could bring in as much as $600 million annually and help to lower smoking rates among youth and adults.

Action alert

  1. Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee and ask them to approve the bill for a vote on the Senate floor.
  2. Call or email your state senator today and encourage their support for this important piece of legislation!


Georgia Senate Passes State Budger that Includes Deep Cuts

Key health programs see cuts of $250 million

Last Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the FY2021 budget, which will begin July 1, 2020. The budget includes deep cuts to many state agencies, including 12 furlough days for staff and hiring freezes. The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute provides a fuller picture of the budget cuts here. State agencies and programs that directly impact the health of Georgians were not spared in the budget cuts:  

  • Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities would see a cut of $122 million total, with the biggest cuts focused on services for adults with developmental disabilities, child and adolescent mental health services, (including prevention programs and supported education services), housing vouchers for people with mental illnesses and other adult mental health services, and adult substance use recovery services.
  • Department of Public Health would see a cut of $27.4 million total. More than half of that cut ($13.9 million) would come from a reduction in grants to local health departments and another $4.9 million would be cut from health promotion funds.
  • Department of Human Services (which includes the Dept. of Family & Children Services, Division of Aging Services, and other agencies serving vulnerable populations) would see a cut of $100 million. The funding cut would require 50 Dept. of Family & Children Services office to close and consolidate, exacerbating the limited access of families to food assistance, cash assistance for families with children, and other social services. 
  • Georgia’s Medicaid agency, the Department of Community Health, was able to offset $205 million in cuts because the federal government has increased its support of the Medicaid and PeachCare programs as part of the federal coronavirus relief packages, although some cuts were still made in the DCH budget.

 The budget is now being considered by a conference committee made up of members from both the House and Senate. Please contact these conference committee members to let them know that they can avert these steep budget cuts by considering new revenue options. Several common sense proposals (Increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax, expanding Medicaid, reclaiming the health insurance assessmentamong other options) could increase revenue without impacting the amount of taxes paid by the vast majority of Georgia families. Contact the budget conference committee members today!

  • Senator Mike Dugan: 404-656-7872
  • Senator Blake Tillery: 404-656-0089
  • Senate Butch Miller: 404-656-6578
  • Representative Terry England: 404-463-2247
  • Representative Jon Burns: 404-656-5052
  • Representative Jan Jones: 404-656-5072

Pharmacy Benefit Manager Legislation Keeps Moving

Two bills to reform PBM practices in Georgia move forward 

Georgia’s House and Senate continued their efforts last week to better regulate how pharmacy benefit managers operate in Georgia. Pharmacy benefit managers (commonly called PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies. After presenting a revised version of SB 313, Senator Dean Burke’s bill was approved by the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care. The revised version requires that PBMs count third-party financial assistance or coupons towards a consumer’s out-of-pocket costs when the medicine is a brand-name that 1) does not have a generic or 2) a patient obtained the prescription through step-therapy, prior authorization, or their health insurance plan’s appeals process. This protection will benefit many Georgians with expensive prescriptions. GHF will detail the other revisions included in SB 313 in future email updates.

Additionally, Rep. Knight’s HB 946 was approved by the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee on Friday and was passed by the full Senate today. The bill will return to the House for an “agree” to the bill’s amendments before it heads to the Governor’s desk.
 

(For an overview of both bills in their original forms, please read our March 2nd legislative update.)


GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session and COVID-19
 

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.

GHF is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the information you need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments.





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Legislative Update: Surprise billing moves ahead, budget cuts, & Georgia Can’t Wait!

Legislative Update: Week 10

The 2020 legislative session has resumed

Yesterday Georgia’s General Assembly resumed the 2020 legislative session after being suspended in March due to safety concerns over COVID-19. Legislators returned to the Capitol on Monday to pick up their work on the state budget and key pieces of legislation. The last ten days of legislative session will be dedicated primarily to the FY 2021 state budget to which Governor Kemp has proposed 11% cuts. Read the State Budget Cuts Are Not Inevitable section below to find out how you can take action for a state budget that supports the health and wellness of Georgians.


Senate committee approves surprise billing legislation

Critical surprise billing legislation heads toward finish line

Earlier this year, companion bills (SB 359 and HB 888) were introduced in the House and Senate to ban surprise out-of-network medical billing (also called surprise billing) in emergency and non-emergency situations. In a rare Sunday meeting, HB 888 was approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. The Senate Rules Committee acted quickly today and approved the bill for a vote on the Senate floor tomorrow, Wednesday, June 17th. Please call your state senator today and encourage their support for this important piece of legislation!


New revenue can improve health in Georgia

State budget cuts are not inevitable

Because of the economic slow-down caused by COVID-19, Georgia’s revenues from sales taxes and other sources have dropped substantially. This has prompted the Governor to call for an 11% cut in state spending. Deep cuts to already-skeletal services and programs will disproportionately harm communities of color and rural communities, weaken Georgia’s health care system as it continues to respond to the pandemic, and curb the state’s ability to recover economically. GHF was one of 37 groups to send a letter to Governor Kemp and state lawmakers last week calling on them to raise new revenues rather than slash spending. New sources of revenue that can also improve health for Georgians include: 

  • Raising Georgia’s tobacco tax — an increase of $1 per pack would bring in $400 million each year and reduce smoking rates in Georgia
  • Expanding Medicaid— in addition to providing health coverage to 500,000 Georgians, Georgia would draw down $3 billion in federal funds each year
  • Re-claiming the health insurance assessment—by collecting the revenue from this existing tax, Georgia could bring in $360 million each year to make health insurance more affordable for consumers and small businesses

Ask Governor Kemp and your state lawmakers today to avert budget cuts and improve health in Georgia by raising state revenue!  


Georgia Can’t Wait!

Thank you for a successful Virtual Day of Action!

GHF and Cover Georgia welcomed legislators back on to work yesterday by urging them to take action to expand Medicaid. During yesterday’s virtual Day of Action, participants like you sent 500 messages to Governor Kemp and your legislators encouraging them to act immediately to protect the health and financial well-being of 560,000 Georgians by closing Georgia’s coverage gap! Thank you for your advocacy!

If you didn’t get a chance to contact your lawmakers yesterday, call or email today and ask them to act now to close Georgia’s coverage gap!


GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session and COVID-19

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.

GHF is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the information you need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments.


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Legislative Update: More Medicaid for new moms, big & little budgets, and Crossover Day deadlines

Legislative Update: Week 8

General Assembly continues work on budgets ahead of Crossover Day

Last week the Senate passed their version of the FY2020 state budget (the “little budget”). This week the House and Senate will appoint a conference committee to work out the remaining differences in their versions of the little budget before it gets a final approval by both chambers. This morning the House Appropriations committee has passed its version of the FY2021 budget, which will begin July 1st of this year and run through June 30, 2021. The big budget will be considered by the full House chamber later this week.

Committee hearings will continue in earnest as legislators try to move their priority bills ahead of this week’s Crossover Day deadline. (Crossover Day is the 28th day of session and the deadline by which bills must pass the House or the Senate in order to remain viable to become law.) In next week’s legislative update, we will run down which health bills were left on the cutting room floor and which ones remain viable for this year.


Bill introduced to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage

Legislation would allow moms to keep Medicaid coverage up to six months after giving birth

HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. Currently, pregnant women covered by Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after their birth or miscarriage. Due to restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements for Georgia parents and because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults, many mothers who try to apply for Medicaid after the 60 days are ineligible and become uninsured. The bill has been referred to the House Health & Human Services committee and has the support of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, GHF, and other consumer health advocacy groups.

Learn more about this legislation and maternal health in Georgia in a new blog from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


Surprise billing and Gracie’s Law approved

Surprise billing protections are another step closer to passage

Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate last month to ban surprise out-of-network medical billing (also called surprise billing) in emergency and non-emergency situations. Last week the House passed its version of this important consumer-focused legislation, HB 888. The Senate has already approved SB 359, which closely mirrors the House bill. The Senate bill is expected to be amended in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care so that it exactly matches the House version and better protects against surprise bills in emergency situations. Both bills are expected to be considered up by their respective committees after Crossover Day.


Gracie’s Law moves on to Senate

Gracie’s Law (HB 842), sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities. Gracie’s Law was approved by the House on February 28th and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill is supported by The Arc of Georgia, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and other disability advocacy organizations.

(For more on this bill, please read our earlier legislative update.)


Pharmacy benefit manager legislation keeps moving

Four bills to reform PBM practices in Georgia move forward ahead of Crossover Day

Georgia’s House and Senate continued their efforts last week to change how pharmacy benefit managers operate in Georgia. Pharmacy benefit managers (commonly called PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies. 

HB 946 and HB 947, both sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight and HB 918, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, were passed by the House on Wednesday. HB 946 was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor committee, and HB 918 and HB 947 were referred to the Senate Health and Human Services committee. Similarly, SB 313sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, was approved by the Senate on Thursday.

(For an overview of the bills, please read our March 2nd legislative update.)


GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: House passes little budget & Senate to vote on surprise billing today

Legislative Update: Week 6

Legislative session has resumed

After more than a week-long break to consider the state budget, the Georgia General Assembly resumed its normal schedule last week. The House of Representatives approved the amended FY20 budget on Wednesday and continues its consideration of the FY2021 budget. Even as the budget takes center stage, health-related legislation is beginning to make progress in both the House and Senate. 

Today marks Day 17 (out of 40) of this year’s legislative session.


Senate vote expected today on surprise billing legislation

Senate committee approves legislation, House committee will reconsider surprise billing bill

Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate last month to ban surprise out-of-network medical billing (also called surprise billing) in emergency and non-emergency situations. Last Tuesday the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care heard testimony from insurers, advocates, and medical providers about the House legislation, HB 888. While the bill was narrowly passed by the committee that day, the House Rules committee has since sent the bill back (or “recommitted”) to the committee for further consideration.

The companion bill, SB 359, was approved on Wednesday by the Senate Health and Human Services committee. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, includes changes that better protect consumers from receiving surprise bills from hospitals after emergency situations. (The bill already included physicians in emergency situations.) The Senate is expected to vote on SB 359 this morning, and if approved, the bill will move to the House for its consideration.


Amended FY20 budget passed by House

House makes sizeable changes to Gov. Kemp’s proposed budget

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to approve the amended FY2020 state budget, which ends June 30th of this year. The version passed by the House erases many of Governor Kemp’s proposed cuts including funding reduction to the Georgia Poison Center, Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine and the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center at Mercer. Cuts to local county health departments across the state were reduced from $6.3 million to $3.7 million. 

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) saw $9 million in cuts restored in the areas of intensive family support services, adult crisis stabilization beds, behavioral health core services, and other areas. DBHDD will still see a net loss of $25.7 million under this budget, but that cut is down from $34.4 million.

You can see the changes made by the House in the FY20 Track Sheet. The Senate will now take up this year’s amended budget and the House will turn its attention to the FY2021 budget which takes effect July 1, 2020.


Vaping and organ transplant bills move forward

Bills to raise the age of purchase for tobacco & nicotine products approved by Senate committee

Multiple pieces of legislation were introduced this year that would change the way Georgia regulates tobacco, vaping devices and other nicotine products. SB 298, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, would increase the age at which Georgians are allowed to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 years of age, among other things. The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee approved SB 298 last week. The bill must now be passed by the Senate Rules committee in order to receive a vote by the full Senate. (For an overview of the bill, please read our Jan. 21st legislative update.)


Gracie’s Law passed by House Insurance committee

Gracie’s Law (HB 842), which would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities, was approved by the House Insurance committee last week. Sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, the bill is supported by The Arc of Georgia, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and other disability advocacy organizations. The bill is expected to receive a vote by the full House of Representatives this week. (For more on this bill, please read our earlier legislative update.)


GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
 
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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: Surprise billing, vaping, & Georgia’s budget

Legislative Update: Week 1

The 2020 legislative session has begun

Last week, the Georgia General Assembly convened for the first time in 2020. The first four days of the 2020 legislative session were mostly taken up with committee appointments, Governor Kemp’s second State of the State address, and other annual traditions including GHF’s own Health Care Unscrambled

This week will be dedicated primarily to budget hearings for the current (FY 2020 Amended) and next year’s (FY 2021) state budgets. The General Assembly will reconvene next Monday, January 27th for the fifth day of legislative session. 


Efforts to address surprise billing gain early momentum

The issue of surprise out-of-network medical billing (sometimes called “surprise billing” or “balance billing”) is already getting a lot of attention early in the 2020 session. At Health Care Unscrambled, Senate Health & Human Services Chairman Ben Watson said, “If we do not pass balanced billing or surprised billing this year, I don’t think it will be a successful session.” Governor Kemp added his support during his State of the State address, saying “Working with patients, providers, and the private sector, we’ll craft a legislative remedy to reduce surprise medical billing. We will demand transparency, embrace empathy, and insist on fairness.” 

GHF and our partners at Georgia Watch have long advocated for a legislative solution that protects Georgia consumers from payment battles between insurers and providers. We are grateful for the support of Governor Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Duncan, and legislative leaders on this important issue. We look forward to working with all parties to ensure that Georgia consumers are no longer stuck with surprise bills when they go to the doctor.


Governor outlines priorities in annual address

Governor Kemp submits his budget recommendations

On Thursday, Governor Kemp addressed the General Assembly in his second annual State of the State address and, per tradition, used the opportunity to introduce his proposed budget. Governor Kemp also laid out his priorities for his second year in office, including education, foster care, and public safety.

The amended budget (an update to the current state budget) includes a 4% cut to cut state spending through the end of the state fiscal year (June 30, 2020).

The Governor’s recommended FY 2021 budget, which will begin on July 1, 2020, includes a 6% cut to state spending. Despite the cut, a $89.6 million increase in the Medicaid budget is proposed to address growing enrollment. The House will now take up and consider the two budgets before passing them to the Senate later in the session.


Action Alert!

Act now, submit your comment today!

Before the legislative session began, Gov. Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with their plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. Now those health officials must ask for your input, beginning with the Medicaid plan! 
 

Gov. Kemp’s Medicaid plan will leave thousands of low-income Georgians with no meaningful pathway to coverage. We need you to step up AGAIN and become a health care hero by telling health officials what you think of the Medicaid plan! The deadline for comment is Friday, February 7th. Visit CoverGA.org to comment today! 

Did you submit a comment in November? Please submit a comment again so federal officials can hear directly from you.


Early legislation introduced

Legislation to restrict vaping

SB 298 would raise the minimum age to purchase vaping products from the current age of 18 to 21. It would also set tougher penalties for selling tobacco, nicotine and vaping products to minors and would require schools to include information about the harms of vaping and smoking in their health education curricula. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Renee Unterman. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the House in the coming weeks. The bill has been referred to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.


The legislative calendar begins to take shape

The General Assembly set its calendar for the first fourteen days of the 2020 legislative session in HR 879. After this week’s budget hearings, the session will pick up again according to the following schedule:

January 27: Day 5

January 28: Day 6

January 29: Day 7

February 30: Day 8

February 31: Day 9

February 3: Day 10

February 4: Day 11

February 5: Day 12

February 6: Day 13

February 10: Day 14


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Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
 

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: Crossover edition

Legislative Update: Week 8
Crossover Day brings legislative action late into the night

Last Thursday was 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. This week’s legislative update provides a rundown of consumer health legislation: which bills made it through and which did not. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here. (Note: After a flurry of activity last week, we are still working to update our legislative tracker with the current status of each bill. So while many of the bills are updated, it is best to find the bill you are interested in and click through to find the full information on the bill’s statis on legis.ga.gov.


Our priorities

Surprise billing legislation moves forward

SB 56, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, received approval by the full Senate on Wednesday and may be considered by the House Insurance Committee in the coming weeks. The legislation aims to improve transparency for consumers who may be subject to a surprise out-of-network bill. This bill would disallow surprise billing in emergency situations but does not prohibit surprise billing in non-emergency situations like when a physician uses an out-of-network laboratory for diagnostic tests. This bill now sits in the House Insurance committee. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 11th legislative update.)


Legislation to fully expand coverage stalls; Patients First Act advances

HB 37, the Expand Medicaid Now Act, and SB 36 sponsored by Representative Bob Trammell and Senator Steve Henson respectively, did not receive hearings and did not cross over last week. Each bill was written to expand Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile SB 106, the Patients First Act, has moved quickly through the Senate in the weeks before Crossover Day. The legislation, as written, would allow the Department of Community Health to request an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage to adults making up to 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($12,490 annually for an individual). This “partial expansion” would leave out thousands of new-poor Georgians who are meant to be similarly covered according to federal health law and will likely cost the state more to cover fewer people. Additionally, the bill allows the Governor to make potentially tremendous changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. The bill will now awaits a hearing from the House’s Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.


Healthy housing legislation moves to Senate committee

Georgians for a Healthy Future is a member of the Healthy Housing Georgia coalition because evidence shows the strong and firect influence housing has on a person’s health. The coalition supports HB 346, which would prohibit retaliation by a landlord against a tenant for complaining to Code Enforcement about unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions like the presence of mold, radon, rodents, insect infestations, or lead. Georgia is the only state in the country that does not protect tenants against unsafe and uninhabitable housing conditions with a “warranty of habitability.” This bill now sits in the Senate Judiciary committee. (For more details on the legislation, see our March 5th legislative update.)

 


Crossover day recap

HB 30: Amended FY 2019 Budget | CROSSED OVER

HB 30 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2019. The “little budget” has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and been signed by the Governor. The amended budget went into effect on Saturday, March 9th.


HB 31: FY 2020 Budget | CROSSED OVER

HB 31 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. The budget includes several new investments in behavioral health and mostly maintains funding for other health care programs and priorities. The Senate will continue to hold hearings on the “big budget” this week. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY 2020 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


HB 37: Expand Medicaid Now Act | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 37, sponsored by Rep. Bob Trammell, expands Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act by increasing Medicaid eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty guidelines (FPL). This is equivalent to $17,236 annually for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.


HB 63: Step therapy legislation: CROSSED OVER

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would require health insurance plans to establish step therapy protocols and outline a process for health care providers to request exceptions. Step therapy is a requirement by some insurers that patients try a series of lower-cost treatments before the insurer will cover the higher-cost treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician.


HB 84: Provider network transparency | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 84, sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, increases transparency related to possible surprise medical bills. The legislation requires that information on billing and the providers that a consumer may encounter during a course of care must be provided to the consumer at their request. In circumstances where a consumer receives a surprise bill, HB 84 also allows for arbitration between the consumer and the health care provider, the specifics of which would be determined by Georgia’s Department of Insurance.


HB 158: Improve Medicaid patient access to effective HIV treatment | CROSSED OVER

HB 158, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, requires that Medicaid recipients have the same access to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS as to those included in the formulary established for the Georgia AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This change would allow for increased continuity of care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia.


HB 198: Eliminate certificate of need requirements | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 198, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hatchett, would change the certificate of need process that is used to regulate health care facilities. The bill also included requirements for increasing transparency of hospital financial information and an increase in the rural hospital tax credit from $60 million to $100 million.


HB 217: Needle exchange program | CROSSED OVER

HB 217, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, decriminalizes the act of working or volunteering for a syringe services program, a step towards legalizing the programs. Distributing clean hypodermic syringes and needles to people who use injection drugs (e.g. heroin) helps to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and does not increase the likelihood that people will newly take up injections drug use.


HB 290: PrEP pilot program | CROSSED OVER

HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would establish a pilot program to provide preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug assistance or services to persons at risk of being infected with HIV. PrEP is a medication taken by people who are HIV-negative to reduce their risk for infection. The pilot program would provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use and participants would receive regular HIV testing and related support services.


HB 321: Medicaid financing program | CROSSED OVER

HB 321, sponsored by Rep. Jodi Lott, would extend the sunset provision of the hospital provider fee for five years. The hospital payment program, which draws down additional federal funding, provides almost $1 billion annually to the state’s Medicaid budget. More information about HB 321 is available here.


HB 514: Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission | CROSSED OVER

HB 514, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, would create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission through at least June 30, 2020. Within the Commission, several subcommittees would be established to include Children and Adolescent Mental Health; Involuntary Commitment; Hospital and Short-Term Care Facilities; Mental Health Courts and Corrections; and Workforce and System Development.


SB 16: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act | CROSSED OVER

SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, would allow Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also provides Georgia’s Medical Board with easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers from other states, an important protective measure for Georgia patients.


SB 74: Eliminate certificate of need requirements | DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 74, sponsored by Senator Matt Brass, would eliminate certificate of need requirements for all health care facilities except certain long-term care facilities and services. This bill is the Senate companion piece to HB 198. Both bills aim to change the current certificate of need structure which regulates hospitals in Georgia.


GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: Week 2

General Assembly meets for joint budget hearings

Last week the Georgia General Assembly met for the joint budget hearings during which Senate and House legislators heard from agency leaders and Governor Brian Kemp about the proposed current and upcoming state budgets. This year’s budgetary considerations consist of requested changes to the current FY 2019 state budget which will run through June 30th and proposals for the FY 2020 general state budget, which will begin on July 1st.

The House will now craft the budget requests into legislation and continue its funding considerations. Both chambers reconvened yesterday, January 28th, for the fifth day of legislative session.


2019 joint session budget hearings
Budget requests presented to the General Assembly

Last week, the General Assembly heard from department commissioners and other leaders regarding their budget requests for the amended FY 2019 budget (sometimes called the “little budget”) and the upcoming FY 2020 budget (called the “big budget”). Here we highlight some of the primary asks made by the state agencies that most impact consumer health. For more detailed budget analysis, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Overview of Georgia’s 2020 Fiscal Year Budget document.

 


Department of Community Health 

The Department of Community Health (DCH) oversees Medicaid, PeachCare, and other state health care programs. Commissioner Berry requested an increase of $71 million in the amended FY 2019 budget to include $33.7 million for growth in Medicaid expense and $18.7 million for the Indigent Care Trust Fund, which draws down additional federal money for Disproportionate Share Hospital payments.

Commissioner Berry’s most significant request in the FY 2020 budget was an increase of $92 million to offset a reduction in the federal cost-sharing payments for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. Georgia’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate will drop from 67.62% to 67.30% for Medicaid and from 100% to 88.61% for PeachCare for Kids, prompting the funding request.


Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities 

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provides treatment, support services, and assistance to Georgians with disabilities, behavioral health challenges, and substance use disorders. Commissioner Fitzgerald’s request for the little budget mirrored the Governor’s recommendations to add $8.4 million for the Georgia Apex Program to provide support counselors for mental health services in high schools.

Commissioner Fitzgerald requested that the big budget include an increase of $78.6 million for the Department. The additional funds would be partially compromised of an additional $10.2 million for behavioral health crisis beds, $2.5 million for supported housing, and 125 new slots for NOW and COMP waivers to reduce the current waiting list.


Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services (DHS) delivers a wide range of human services designed to promote self-sufficiency, safety and well-being for all Georgians. Commissioner Crittenden requested that the big budget include $849,951 to increase funds for 50 additional Medicaid eligibility caseworkers.


The Department of Public Health did not present during the joint budget hearings last week and the Department of Insurance did not have any budgetary requests that were specifically health related. We will include summaries from both departments as we learn more.


GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

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, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s General Assembly

Early voting is underway ahead of the upcoming November 6th Election Day. Georgians across the state are heading to the polls to cast their votes for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state legislators and other elected positions, and voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have a critical impact on consumers health issues in Georgia.

All of Georgia’s state legislative seats are on the ballot this fall and a record number of seats are being competitively contested. The resulting changes in the General Assembly could have a big impact on the future of health and health care for Georgia consumers.

Georgia’s General Assembly is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Georgia has one of the largest state legislatures in the nation with a total of 236 members, made up of 56 Senators and 180 Representatives. Every Georgia resident has one Georgia Senator and one Georgia House member, both of whom are up for re-election every two years.

Constitutionally, the General Assembly is only responsible for proposing and passing an annual state budget; however, during the body’s annual 40-day session, legislators also propose, debate, and pass laws for the state of Georgia, including those that regulate health care, health coverage, or that impact health through another sector (like education or transportation).  

All appropriations bills, which designate how state funds are to be spent, must originate in the House. Health care is the state’s second largest expenditure and made up almost 20% of this year’s annual budget. Each year, after the Governor proposes a state budget, the legislative leaders of the House turn the proposed budget into a bill for consideration by the House’s appropriations committee and then by the full chamber. When the House has approved the budget, the budget goes through the same process in the Senate. Once approved by both chambers, any differences are worked out in a conference committee, before sending the budget back to the Governor to be approved or vetoed.

The decisions made during the General Assembly’s budget considerations can have a big impact on health care and coverage for Georgians. For example, the General Assembly has over the last three years approved pay increases for primary care and OB-GYN doctors and dentists treating Medicaid patients, which improves access to care for the almost 2 million Georgians who rely on Medicaid for health coverage.

Members of the General Assembly may also propose laws to address issues of concern for their constituents. These issues can range from surprise out-of-network medical billing to the opioid crisis to Medicaid expansion to Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace. Many legislators receive ideas for legislation from concerns and complaints brought to them by their constituents (an important reason to get to know your legislators!).

Each year, hundreds of bills are proposed and only a fraction successfully pass both chambers. Health-related bills typically pass through the Health & Human Services and Insurance Committees in each chamber. Legislators can consider bills until Sine Die, the 40th and last day of the legislative session. When approved by both chambers, successful legislation goes to the Governor for approval or veto.

One of the most impactful pieces of health-related legislation passed by the state legislature in recent years is HB 990 (2014), which requires the General Assembly to approve any expansion of Medicaid. This bill effectively revoked the Governor’s ability to act independently to close Georgia’s coverage gap, making it more difficult to expand health coverage to low-income adults in Georgia. 

Georgia’s General Assembly will have many new faces after the upcoming election, each of whom will play a role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next two years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blogs in the series:

*Georgians for a Healthy Future is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization. We do not endorse or support any candidates or political party.


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Five reasons Georgia should follow Virginia’s example

Last week, Virginia became the latest state to expand health care coverage to low-income adults when the Virginia legislature voted to close the its coverage gap and Governor Northam signed the new budget. More than 400,000 Virginians are expected to gain coverage as a result, and the state anticipates declines in uncompensated care costs for hospitals, an increase in people receiving needed health services, and greater financial security for those set to gain coverage. The vote comes after years of advocacy and engagement from constituents and advocates who worked to convey to legislators the importance of health coverage and the impact the change would have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.

Unlike Virginians, 240,000 hard-working Georgians cannot yet look forward to putting a health insurance card in their pockets. These friends and neighbors make too little to get financial help to buy health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid in Georgia, leaving them stuck in the state’s coverage gap.

Georgia remains one of 17 states that is still refusing billions in federal health care dollars to provide health coverage to low-income adults in the state. As in Virginia, Georgia’s Governor and state legislature can choose to close the coverage gap at any time, and here are five reasons they should do so as soon as possible:

  1. Thousands of Georgians would gain health coverage–240,000 Georgians would gain the peace of mind, access to care, and financial protection that insured Georgians have. These Georgians make less than $12,140 a year  or $20,780 for a family of three. Most are working in sectors like retail, child care, construction, and food service, low-paying jobs that do not come with benefits.
  2. Georgia’s rural hospitals are economic anchor institutions–rural communities need their hospitals to provide accessible healthcare, sustain well-paid jobs, and facilitate economic stability. Closing the coverage gap would create at least 12,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in new activity in Georgia’s rural communities each year.
  3. The resulting job growth is greater than what the state would gain by attracting Amazon’s HQ2–extending health coverage to more Georgians would create 56,000 new jobs across the state, more than the 50,000 jobs that Amazon is promising at its second headquarters. Even better, the new jobs would be scattered across the state rather than concentrated in and around Atlanta.
  4. Georgia’s tax dollars are currently sitting unused in Washington, D.C.–By refusing to extend health insurance to low-income Georgians, the state is missing out on $8 million per day ($3 billion dollars per year). Instead of giving up hard-earned tax dollars, Georgia’s policy makers could bring that money back to the state to help low-income parents, veterans, and workers put health insurance cards in their wallets.
  5. It is the biggest step Georgia can take to slow the substance use crisisOne quarter (25%) of Georgians who fall in the coverage gap are estimated to have a mental illness or substance use disorder. If they were covered by health insurance, treatment and recovery services would be within reach, allowing them to resume full, healthy lives. As a result, 36,000 fewer Georgians each year would experience symptoms of depression and the state could make significant progress in addressing its ongoing substance use crisis.

 

After five years of delay, Virginia’s leaders made the right decision and as a result, 400,000 Virginians will see healthier futures. Now is the time for Georgia’s decision makers to follow suite by putting 240,000 insurance cards in wallets all across the state.

 

Virginia State Capitol Image  – Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography


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