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: HIV, lead poisoning prevention, & lots of PBMs

Legislative Update: Week 7

Legislative session passes halfway mark

Last week marked the halfway point of the 2020 Georgia legislative session. The General Assembly was busy with legislative hearings and committee votes last week, illustrated well by the flurry of activity in all of the health-related committees. We have your complete updates below.

The Senate is expected to pass their version of the amended FY2020 state budget this week and work continues in the House on the FY2021 budget. Committee hearings will continue in earnest this week ahead of next 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.)


Effort to modernize HIV laws moves forward

HB 719 passed by House Health & Human Services committee

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 by a person living with HIV. Under HB 719 only the act of having sex without disclosing a person’s HIV status would remain illegal and the punishment for that would be downgraded to a misdemeanor. This legislation has the backing of LGBTQ+ advocates and public health professionals. 

The House Health & Human Services committee approved HB 719 on Wednesday. The bill will now be considered by the House Rules committee. 


Addressing childhood lead exposure

Resolution introduced to establish study committee on child lead poisoning

Last year, 2,333 Georgia children under six years of age were found to have lead poisoning, which is irreversible and can cause speech, language, and behavioral problems, lower IQ levels, and nervous system damage. To address this issue, Rep. Katie Dempsey has introduced HR 1280 to establish a Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure. The resolution has been referred to the House Health & Human Services committee for its consideration.

For more information on this important public health issue, check out this helpful fact sheet from Voices for Georgia’s Children.  


Pharmacy benefit managers in the spotlight

Georgia’s House and Senate committees have taken a keen interest in legislation 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. in order to secure lower prices on medications, PBMs have adopted practices that are seen as to burdensome by pharmacies, restrictive and hard-to-navigate by consumers, and opaque by elected officials. Here are a few of the bills that are moving forward that would reform PBM practices in Georgia.


HB 918: Restricts onerous PBM audits of pharmacies

PBMs may audit the practices of pharmacies as part of their responsibilities for a health insurer. However, these audits can strain independent and small pharmacies with fewer employees. HB 918, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, puts in place limits on the practices of PBMs within these audits so that pharmacies can more easily meet audit requests and the benefit of the doubt is given to pharmacies when small or innocuous mistakes are discovered.

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care approved HB 918 on Friday. The bill will now be considered by the House Rules committee.


HB 946: Increases accountability for PBMs

HB 946, sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight, would increase fines on PBMs when they “steer” consumers to specific pharmacies and would prohibit PBMs from paying affiliated pharmacies more than independent ones. The bill would require PBMs to pass along rebates to insurers (who would presumably pass those savings on to consumers) and would ban programs called “co-pay accumulators.” Co-pay accumulators increase out-of-pocket costs for consumers who need prescription drugs, especially those with expensive medications and those with high deductibles and other cost-sharing.

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care approved HB 946 on Friday. The bill will now be considered by the Hosue Rules committee.


HB 947: Examining the costs of PBMs in Medicaid

HB 947, also sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight, would require Georgia’s Department of Community Health to complete an independent study to find out if Georgia would save money by removing the current PBM structure from its Medicaid plans. If the estimated savings are more than $20 million annually, Georgia would eliminate PBMs from most of the state’s Medicaid plans.

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care approved HB 946 on Friday. The bill will now be considered by the Hosue Rules committee.


SB 313: Benchmarking for prescription drug prices

SB 313, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, is expected to receive a vote today in the Senate Insurance & Labor committee.

This bill is consistent with HB 946 in many ways, although not an exact match. SB 313 requires that PBMs use the “national average drug acquisition cost,” as a reference point for reimbursing pharmacies for prescriptions. The bill also includes many of the same patient protections as those in HB 946. 


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: Transportation and movement on surprise billing

Legislative Update: Week 5

Legislative session resumes this week

After a brief pause last week due to budget disagreements the Georgia legislature will resume its normal schedule today, February 18th. Today is day 13 (out of 40) of this year’s legislative session. According to the legislature’s new calendar, Crossover Day (the day by which a bill has to be approved by at least one chamber in order to remain “alive” for this year) is scheduled for March 12th.


Surprise billing legislation set for committee vote

Senate and House action expected on surprise billing legislation this week

Last month, companion pieces of legislation 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. SB 359 and HB 888, sponsored by Senator Hufstetler and Representative Hawkins respectively, both contain strong consumer protections and set a resolution process that allows insurers and health care providers to settle payment disputes while keeping consumers out of the middle.
 

The Senate Health and Human Services committee heard testimony from insurers, advocates, and medical providers at a hearing on SB 359 last Tuesday. GHF’s Executive Director testified on the bill saying, “the consumer protections in this bill are fair and reasonable. For these reasons, we support (SB 359) and hope to see its successful passage by both chambers during this session.”

HB 888 is scheduled to be heard in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care today at 2pm.

Call one or more of these committee leaders to ask for their support of SB 359 and HB 888: 

  • Sen. Ben Watson, Chairman of Senate HHS committee,
    404-656-7880
  • Sen. Dean Burke, Vice Chairman of Senate HHS committee, 404-656-0040
  • Rep. Mark Newton, Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-0254
  • Rep. Sharon Cooper, Vice Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-5069

If your state Senator or Representative is on either committee, please call them as well!


Prescription drug legislation heard by senate committee

SB 313: Pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen for prescription drugs

SB 313, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, had its second hearing in the Senate Insurance and Labor committee last Wednesday. This bill would update Georgia’s oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and add important consumer protections. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies and in that role are charged with negotiating lower costs for the company and consumers.

At Wednesday’s hearing, patients, doctors, pharmacists and representatives of pharmacy benefit managers offered detailed testimony on the bill. No further action was taken on the bill last week and it is unclear if the Senate Insurance committee will consider it again this week. GHF will continue to report on the bill through the legislative session. (We provided an overview of the bill in an earlier legislative update.)


Rural transit bill could bring changes to Medicaid transportation

Revisions to transit bill attract support from more stakeholders

Adequate transportation is important to the health of Georgians because in most cases people need to go to a location outside of their homes to receive health care. Without access to reliable, safe transportation, Georgians may be forced to skip health appointments and go without medication, or they may not be able to access other things (like healthy foods or good schools and jobs) that would help them stay healthy.

HB 511, sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner, would create a new division within the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that would, among other things, oversee rural transit programs including Medicaid’s non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services. The bill would divide the state (except for 13 metro-Atlanta counties) into eight regions in which counties could collaborate to raise revenue for and coordinate rural transit services. The purpose of the proposed “mobility zones” is to eliminate restrictions on crossing county lines for health appointments and other services for seniors, low-income families, and other needy Georgians, and extend transportation services to those who do not have access to local transportation options.

Advocates for Georgia seniors supported earlier versions of the bill and recent revisions to the bill have earned the support of GDOT and Uber. HB 511 has not been scheduled for a hearing but GHF will report on the legislation as the session progresses.


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, mental health, & Gracie’s law

Legislative Update: Week 4

Legislative session paused amid budget disagreements

The Georgia legislature voted to pause the official legislative calendar last week due to the difficult and sometimes contentious discussions over the state budget. Governor Kemp’s proposed budget cuts for the current and subsequent state budgets have left the legislature to the difficult tasks of finding savings where possible, making cuts to some services and programs, and debating how to bring in sufficient revenue. Speaker of the House David Ralston has instructed the House to hold only budget-related hearings this week. 

The legislature plans to officially reconvene next Tuesday, February 18th for day 13 of this year’s legislative session. According to the legislature’s new calendar, Crossover Day (the day by which a bill has to be approved by at least one chamber in order to remain “alive” for this year) is scheduled for March 12th.

Strong surprise billing legislation introduced

Surprise billing legislation would protect consumers in emergency & non-emergency situations

Last week companion legislation 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. SB 359 and HB 888, sponsored by Senator Hufstetler and Representative Hawkins respectively, both contain strong consumer protections and set a fair payment resolution process that takes consumers out of fights between insurers and health care providers. If passed, these bills would protect 2.6 million Georgians from surprise medical bills.

SB 359 has been read and reffered to the Senate Health and Human Services committee. HB 888 is in House first readers and in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care.

Call one or more of these committee leaders to ask for their support of SB 359 and HB 888: 

  • Sen. Ben Watson, Chairman of Senate HHS committee,
    404-656-7880
  • Sen. Dean Burke, Vice Chairman of Senate HHS committee, 404-656-0040
  • Rep. Mark Newton, Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-0254
  • Rep. Sharon Cooper, Vice Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-5069

If your state Senator or Representative is on either committee, please call them as well!

House examines mental health and organ transplant issues

Involuntary commitment emerges as theme in mental health legisation

Two pieces of mental health legislation garnered attention from mental health advocates and legislators last week.

HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, would make changes to how people in mental health or SUD crises can be committed to emergency involuntary treatment. This legislation could have negative consequences for people with substance use disorders who could be involuntarily committed to treatment under certain circumstances. This bill sits in the House Judiciary committee but the discussions of this issue may instead be moved to a subcommittee of the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission.

HB 760, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would give peace officers the authority to take a person to a physician or emergency department for emergency examination under certain circumstances. This legislation is not supported by mental health advocacy groups because it could lead to involuntary committal for people with mental health issues. The bill now sits in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.

Gracie’s Law would protect organ transplant discrimination for Georgians with disabilities

Rep. Rick Williams has introduced HB 842, titled “Gracie’s Law.” According to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), Gracie’s Law would protect patients with disabilities from being removed from the organ donor waiting list because of their disability. According to an article in GCDD’s Making a Difference magazine, “While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) denies discrimination based on any disability, there is still a lack of federal enforcement,” prompting the need for state action on this issue. This bill has been referred to the House Insurance committee. You can read more about Gracie’s Law here (pg. 12-13).

Thank you!

Cover Georgia logo

Health care heroes like you submitted 1,710 comments!

Before the legislative session began, Governor Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. When health officials needed your input on the Medicaid plan, more than 1700 Georgians like you stepped up! 
 

We are incredibly grateful for your advocacy on behalf of Georgians and communities who would benefit from Medicaid expansion in Georgia. Thank you for speaking up for your friends, neighbors, and all Georgians! Now your comments become part of a powerful legal record that health officials must take into acocunt as they decide whether or not to approve Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan.

Stay tuned! Health officials are still reviewing Governor Kemp’s planned changes for private insurance. When the time comes, we will ask you to speak up again by submitting a comment again! Here and at coverga.org, we will let you know what those changes mean for you and your loved ones and when you can comment.

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: Pharmacy benefit managers, health costs, & vaping

Legislative update: Week 3

Georgia House continues budget considerations 

Last week the Georgia House of Representatives resumed its budget hearings in earnest. The House Appropriations subcommittee on Health met on Tuesday to hear more from state agency leaders about their amended FY2020 budget requests. The FY2020 budget runs through June 30, 2020, and is sometimes called the “little budget”. 

It was clear during last week’s hearings that the House may not simply agree to the budget cuts requested by Governor Kemp. Many Appropriations committee members expressed concerns about how the agencies’ proposed cuts would impact access to health care in rural Georgia, the availability of mental health and substance use services, and other critical health services and supports.

Both chambers will reconvene today, February 3rd, for the tenth day of the legislative session. Before scrolling to the latest news on emerging bills and other happenings under the Gold Dome, don’t forget to tell officials what you think of Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan. The comment deadline is this Friday.


Less than a week to go!

The comment period ends on Friday! Take action now!

Before the legislative session began, Governor 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 need your input, beginning with the Medicaid plan! 

Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan will leave thousands of low-income Georgians with no meaningful way to get health insurance. Instead of expanding Medicaid to cover 490,000 Georgians, this plan would cover only 50,000 people and cost three times more per person.

We need you to step up AGAIN and become a health care hero by telling national 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.


Senate starts with prescription drugs & price transparency

SB 313: Updating how Georgia regulates pharmacy benefit managers

Senator Dean Burke has introduced SB 313, a law that would update Georgia’s oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and add important consumer protections. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, and are a new favorite focus of policy makers who want to address rising health care costs. 

SB 313 requires PBMs to charge health insurers the same price for a drug as it receives from the drug manufacturer and that PBMs pass all rebates from the manufacturer to the health plan. (Ideally, these savings are then passed along to consumers.) The bill also disallows PBMS from building drug formularies (lists of covered medicines) in a way that discriminates against people with prescription drug needs. The bill also strengthens the Insurance Commissioner’s ability to hold PBMs accountable to state laws and regulations.

This bill is complex and GHF will continue to report on it through the legislative session. The bill has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee.


SB 303: Georgia Right to Shop Act

SB 303 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. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Ben Watson, Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services committee. It has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee and is expected to be heard this week. 


Focus on nicotine & tobacco continues

Legislation would tax vaping products

Representative Bonnie Rich introduced HB 864 last week, which would add a 7% excise tax to vaping products and would require businesses that sell vaping products to register with the state for a $250 fee. This bill is one of at least three pieces of legislation that would change how Georgia taxes and regulates tobacco or other nicotine products. HB 731, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, would raise Georgia’s tobacco tax to $1.87 from its current level of $0.37. SB 298, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, would increase the age that Georgians are allowed to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, among other things.

Both House Bills have been referred to the House Ways & Means committee and SB 298 has been referred to the Senate Regulated Industries committee.


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


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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Sine Die

The 2019 Georgia legislative session is over but we are not finished! 

Yesterday was Sine Die at the Georgia General Assembly – the last day of the 2019 legislative session. This year’s session saw the approval of several bills that will surely impact consumers’ health and finances in positive ways if approved by the Governor. Efforts to address step therapy so patients have access to needed therapies and housing so that families can be assured of safe, healthy places to live have been multi-year efforts by consumer and family advocates. These bills now move to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and signature.

The impact of other bills is less certain. SB 106 may bring sweeping changes to Georgia’s health care landscape but the details have yet to be laid out. The passage of legislation is only the first step in a health reform process in which your voice and advocacy will be needed. (Learn more about the next steps and what to expect in our latest blog post and in the section below.)

Check out our summary of the more notable health bills of the 2019 session below and a full list of health care-related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

Our priorities
Governor Kemp signs Patients First Act into law but its impacts on Georgians still uncertain

SB 106, the Patients First Act, moved quickly through the Georgia General Assembly this session and was signed into law by Governor Kemp last week. As we have reported, the bill allows the state to pursue an 1115 waiver to make changes to Georgia’s Medicaid program that may include expanding coverage to more poor adults and a 1332 state innovation waiver to make changes to private insurance in the state.

Now that the bill is signed, what’s next? You are critical to ensuring that the waivers created from SB 106 lead Georgia to the healthy future that we all want. Your advocacy, stories, and input are necessary. Read our new blog so you know what to expect and how you can help ensure all Georgians have meaningful, affordable health coverage.

 


Pills

Step therapy legislation approved

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, will 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. The bill received final approval by the House on Tuesday

Call Governor Kemp at 404-656-1776 and ask that he sign HB 63.


Surprise billing legislation fails to cross the finish line

Surprise billing legislation faced familiar roadblocks this year when provider groups and insurers could not come to agreement about payments for out-of-network care. There were late efforts to revive some or all of HB 84 and SB 56 but neither succeeded. (Both bills are covered in detail in our Februrary 11th legislative update.) We are grateful to Chairman Richard Smith and Chairman Hufstetler for their work on this important issue and hope to find a resolution for consumers in the next legislative session.


Healthy housing legislation passes

GHF, as part of the Healthy Housing Georgia coalition, supported HB 346. This bill will 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. If the Governor signs the bill into law, Georgia will join the ranks of forty-one other states that have already implemented similar legislation to protect tenants against retaliatory evictions. (For more details on the legislation, see our March 5th legislative update.)

Call Governor Kemp at 404-656-1776 and ask that he sign HB 346.


Sine Die Recap

HB 30: Amended FY 2019 Budget | SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

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 Tuesday, March 12th.


HB 31: FY 2020 Budget | PASSED

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. 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 PASS

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 158: Improve Medicaid patient access to effective HIV treatment | DID NOT PASS*

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. *Although HB 158 did not get a Senate vote, it received favorable comments in the Senate Health Committee, after passing the House unanimously. In recognition of the broad support of this effort, Georgia’s Medicaid agency has committed to the bill sponsor to implement the intent of the legislation.


HB 217: Needle exchange | PASSED

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 | PASSED

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 83: Recess legislation | PASSED

HB 83, sponsored by Representative Demetrius Douglas, would require a daily 30-minute recess for all students in grades K-5 unless they have already had a physical education class or structured activity time in the day. This bill now sits in the Senate Rules committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. To learn more about the impact of recess on children’s physical and mental health, read this fact sheet from Voices for Georgia’s Children.


HB 321: Medicaid financing program | PASSED

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 | PASSED

HB 514, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, would create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission which would work to analyze and offer improvements to the state’s mental health system and run 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 | PASSED

SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, would allow Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact” 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.


HB 233: Pharmacy Anti-Steering and Transparency Act | PASSED

HB 233, sponsored by Rep. David Knight, would prohibit pharmacies from sharing patient data for commercial purposes and prohibit pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from steering patients to PBM-owned pharmacies. It also requires such pharmacies to file an annual disclosure statement of its affiliates. Pharmacy benefit managers are companies that manage the prescription drug benefit of your health plan.


SB 195: Prescription Drug Benefits Freedom of Information and Consumer Protection Act | DID NOT PASS

SB 195, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, this bill would make it easier for consumers to know what prescription medications are covered by their health insurance plan and better understand the likely costs by requiring health insurers to conspicuously post on their website information about their drug formulary in a current and searchable format. A drug formulary is the list of prescription medicines that your health insurer agrees to pay for or partially pay for. SB 195 would also standardize and speed up the process for consumers and providers to request prior authorization for necessary prescription drugs.


HB 186: Certificate of Need Reform | PASSED

HB 186, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, will create a new category for general cancer hospitals as part of an agreement with Cancer Treatment Centers of America that would allow more Georgia patients to be seen. This bill will also limit who can object to a provider’s Certificate of Need application for expanding hospital services. The change would limit objections to only come from health care facilities that provide similar services and are located within a thirty-five mile radius.


HB 197: Establishment of Strategic Integrated Data System | PASSED

HB 197, sponsored by Rep. Katie Dempsey, will establish the Strategic Integrated Data System through the Office of Planning and Budget. The data system would capture de-identified information about the physical and mental health and social services beign provided to Georgians across the state. The goal of the system is to provide a central source of date about state services that can be used by state agencies, lawmakers, and researchers to make programs more effective and cost-efficient.


HB 323: Regulation and licensure of pharmacy benefits managers | PASSED

HB 323, sponsored by Rep. David Knight, will provide a good first step in drug transparency from pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs.) PBMs will have to report how much they receive in rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers to the Department of Insurance and how much of those savings are being passed on to customers, although the information are not required to be reported to the legislature or the public.


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

GHF has been 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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Bill analysis: SB 106 aims to improve access to health care but falls short

For the first time in Georgia, there is widespread and bipartisan agreement among Georgia’s Governor and legislative leaders about the pressing need to provide health insurance to more Georgians. To address the state’s rising uninsured rate, Governor Brian Kemp has put forth a bill, SB 106 (also called the Patients First Act), that would allow the state to submit two kinds of health care waivers:

  • A Medicaid 1115 waiver that could be used to extend coverage to more low-income Georgians, among other reforms; and
  • 1332 State Innovation waivers that would make changes to Georgia’s private health insurance marketplace.

(Waivers allow a state to set aside or “waive” certain requirements imposed by the federal government and try new models of providing health coverage and care.)

While the legislation’s goal to extend affordable, quality coverage to more Georgians is one with which GHF wholeheartedly agrees, the bill currently falls short by limiting the number of people who would benefit, increasing the likely costs to the state, and leaving to door open to an erosion of critical consumer protections.

SB 106 limits a future 1115 Medicaid waiver to cover only adults making up to 100% of the federal poverty line (FPL) ($12,490 for an individual and $21,330 for a family of three per year). While this would cover 240,000 more Georgians than are currently eligible for Medicaid, the cut-off leaves out an estimated 200,000 uninsured Georgia adults making just more than poverty-level wages (up to 138% FPL). These Georgians make up to $17,296 for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.

The Affordable Care Act envisioned that all adults making up to 138% FPL would be covered by Medicaid and provides states with an incentive to do so. States that extend coverage to these newly-eligible adults pay only 10% of the costs and the federal government picks up the rest (90%) in perpetuity.

If Georgia’s leaders approve SB 106 in its current form and leave out the adults just above the poverty line, our state will miss out on the ACA’s “enhanced match rate”. Wisconsin is the only other state that has opted to take this route, and as a result, has paid $1.1 billion more to cover 80,000 fewer people.

A small change to the language in SB 106 would give the state the flexibility to increase coverage to people up to 138% FPL, allowing the state to cover an estimated 440,000 Georgians at a lower cost.

The second part of SB 106 allows Georgia to submit at least one 1332 State Innovation waiver. These innovation waivers were created by the ACA to allow states to test different approaches for providing primarily private health insurance to their residents. At the same time, the law established “guardrails” for 1332 waivers to ensure consumers were sufficiently protected. Unfortunately, these guardrails have been greatly weakened in recent months leaving consumers at risk.

From Kaiser Family Foundation

So far, all eight states with approved 1332 waivers have carried out plans that benefit consumers—and Georgia could too. However, the broad language in SB 106 as currently written allows for proposals that could also create sizable and risky changes that harm consumers. For example, Georgia could allow the ACA’s financial help that is now available to consumers to buy coverage to be used instead for the purchase of junk insurance plans. This would likely draw healthy consumers out of the ACA Marketplace to cheaper, low-quality plans and send insurance premiums into an upward spiral for consumers with pre-existing conditions who need comprehensive coverage.

Georgia’s legislators could narrow the scope of allowable 1332 waivers by specifying that the waiver must be used for a specific beneficial reason, like establishing a reinsurance system to lower insurance premiums, or by laying out a set of principles that the waiver must meet to ensure Georgia consumers are fully protected. (GHF’s Executive Director proposed a set of consumer-friendly principles when she testified to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee in February.)

Georgia’s leaders have taken an encouraging step forward by proposing changes to state law that aim to increase access to care and address affordability concerns for Georgia families. A few small, meaningful changes to SB 106 would assure a path to affordable, quality health coverage exists for all Georgians.


Want to learn more? Here are a few resources that you may find helpful:

Follow changes and updates about SB 106 in GHF’s weekly legislative update emails.


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Legislative Update: Week 5

Action Alert: Patients First Act falls short

Last week, state leaders introduced SB 106. Titled the Patients First Act, the legislation permits Georgia’s Governor to pursue two health care waivers that could make significant changes to health coverage for Georgia consumers. The legislation allows for an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage to some poor adults in Georgia but leaves out thousands who would be covered under a full Medicaid expansion. Additionally, the bill allows the Governor to make potentially seismic changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. While it is heartening that Georgia’s leaders see the need to create a pathway to coverage for more Georgians, this proposed legislation falls short for two reasons, both of which we’re asking you to take action on:

1. The proposed 1115 Medicaid waiver would cover fewer people at a higher cost than Medicaid expansion. It would leave out thousands of Georgians in need of coverage and leave the state accountable for a larger share of the medical costs for those who would be newly covered. Ask Governor Kemp and your state legislators to get the best deal for Georgia by covering all eligible Georgians. (Then plan to join us for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol on February 28th!)

2. More than 480,000 Georgians rely on Georgia’s health insurance marketplace for health coverage, and many more are eligible. Changes made to private coverage through a 1332 waiver could benefit or harm these consumers, but the legislation, as written is too broad to determine its impact. Ask Governor Kemp and your state leaders to specify in the bill that any waiver will preserve critical consumer protections (like those that protect consumers with pre-existing conditions), maintain comprehensive, quality health coverage, support a stable marketplace through increased enrollment, and will not leave consumers on the hook for higher costs.


House passes step therapy bill
Step therapy legislation moves quickly through House

HB 63, a bill sponsored by Chairman of the House HHS Committee Representative Sharon Cooper, was passed by the House this week. HB 63 addresses step therapy, which 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. This bill would require health insurance plans to establish step therapy protocols and outline a process for health care providers to request exceptions. HB 63 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

 


GHF releases annual consumer health advocate’s guide
A Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide to the 2019 Legislative Session

GHF’s annual Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide is your map for navigating the Georgia legislative session. This annual booklet provides information on the legislative process, legislators, and committees, key agency officials, advocate contacts, and more. Experienced advocates and new volunteers will find their way around Georgia’s Capitol more easily with the information provided in this year’s guide. Download or pick up your copy today.

(Interested in a hard copy? Contact Michelle Conde.)


RSVP for Cover Georgia Day
Join Cover Georgia at the state capitol on February 28th!

Join us on Thursday, February 28th for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol when we will ask our state legislators to close Georgia’s coverage gap by putting insurance cards in the pockets of all Georgians. For the first time in Georgia, there is wide-spread agreement among Georgia’s legislators that something must be done to extend coverage to low-income Georgians across the state. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask your elected officials to close Georgia’s coverage gap now! RSVP today!


Can’t make it? Call or send an email to your state legislators asking them to put an insurance card in the pockets of all Georgians.


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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GHF kicks off 2019 with Health Care Unscrambled breakfast

Georgians for a Healthy Future’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled breakfast built on previous years’ successes with another standing room-only crowd.

This year’s program began with a personal story from consumer Lori Murdock, who bravely shared her experience struggling to manage a chronic disease without health insurance because she was caught in Georgia’s coverage gap. Lori’s experience illustrates the pressing need to provide health insurance to all Georgians regardless of income.

 

Following Lori was our bipartisan legislative panel. This year’s legislative panelists were:

Each panelist provided updates on emerging health care trends impacting Georgia and took questions from the audience about what health issues are likely to be taken up in the 2019 legislative session. Topics included Medicaid expansion, surprise out of network medical billing, access to mental health,  network adequacy, Certificate of Need reform, social determinants of health, rural health care access, federal health care reform, and affordability of health care. All three panelists shared an optimistic vision for health care in this years legislative session.

This year’s key note speaker was Dr. David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund. Dr. Blumenthal brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to our conversation about how innovations in health care and coverage can help us achieve better health outcomes for all Georgians. He led the discussion by comparing Georgia’s health outcomes to those of our neighboring states, and then provided an agenda for improvement. He emphasized that Georgia is unlikely to overcome poor health outcomes unless state leadership improves insurance coverage, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Fund’s own research on Medicaid expansion’s impacts on population health. Dr. Blumenthal also shared the importance of investments in the social determinants of health for improving health outcomes and ultimately saving money. Dr. Blumenthal’s presentation can be accessed here and the Georgia scorecard from the Commonwealth Fund can be found here.

To see photos, review materials, and get more information about this year’s Health Care Unscrambled event, please visit the event page.

For more event pictures visit our Facebook photo album. 


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