Tag: surprise billing

A consumer health advocates guide to the 2020 elections: Georgia’s General Assembly

This year, no Georgian has been left untouched by the health or economic impacts of COVID-19. The global pandemic has spotlighted the importance of public policy decisions that prioritize the health and wellness of populations, the consequences of underfunding government agencies (like departments of public health) and other essential public infrastructure, and the disparate impact that public policies have had on Black Americans and other people of color.  National, state, and local leaders, many elected by the public, are responsible for the policy decisions made ahead of and in response to COVID-19, its economic fallout, and the movement for racial justice .

Ahead of Election Day on November 6, 2020, Georgians have the opportunity to learn more about these elected positions, the decision-making power each has, and how that may impact their health and the well-being of Georgians. This year, Georgians will cast their votes for the U.S. President, members of Congress,  state legislators, state supreme court judges, and other positions.  Voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have an unprecedented impact on consumers health issues in Georgia as we continue to battle through the current health crisis.

Georgia’s General Assembly
Pictures from the Georgia state capitol featuring GHF and health advocates

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, compromised 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. All of Georgia’s state legislative seats are on the ballot this fall.

Georgia’s state budget

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, housing, or transportation).  

All appropriations bills, which define how state money can be spent, must begin in the House. 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 all House members. As the House considers the budget, it hears from leaders of state agencies, lobbyists for various interest groups, advocates like GHF, and from members of the public about how the state should spend its budget for the next year.

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.

Due to the on-going coronavirus crisis, this year’s budget considerations by the General Assembly were influenced by falling state revenues. The General Assembly decided against finding new ways for Georgia to bring in money from increased tobacco taxes, taxes on insurance companies, and other revenue-generating ideas. Instead, the Georgia House and Senate passed a state budget that included $2.2 billion in budget cuts for the FY 2021 budget. The approved budget cuts  will have negative consequences for critical health care programs and social services. For example, a $91 million reduction in funds to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities will make it more difficult for uninsured adults to find treatment for substance use disorders. The $8.2 million cut to the Department of Public Health will severely decrease programs that promote health care access in rural and underserved areas.

State laws

Members of the General Assembly may 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 maternal mortality. 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.

Two of the most impactful pieces of health-related legislation passed by the state legislature this year were HB 888, the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, and HB 1114, postpartum Medicaid coverage. HB 888 will ban surprise billing in emergency situations and for non-emergency health services when a consumer is at an in-network hospital or other facility, beginning January 1, 2021. HB 1114 will allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. (Previously, new moms were covered for only 60 days after giving birth.) Both of these bills will improve health and well-being of Georgians. Oppositely, in 2019, the Georgia General Assembly passed HB 481, which would have outlawed most abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy. This law would have worsened Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis and was deemed illegal by a federal court.

This year’s election

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 COVID-19, 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. Be sure you know the candidates for Georgia’s Senate and House on your ballot and how they plan to act on the health issues that are important to you.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2020 election on timely consumer health issues. Please be on the lookout for more blogs in this 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 Years in the Making: Consumer Advocates’ Role in Passing Comprehensive Surprise Billing Legislation

Quote from consumer about surprise billing and summary of blog

Today, Governor Kemp signed the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act into law! Georgians for a Healthy Future and our partners at Georgia Watch strongly supported this bipartisan bill to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills.

These exorbitant bills often burden patients with high amounts of medical debt. In fact, over half of debt collection actions contain medical debts, leading to bankruptcy for many consumers. Take George C. of Lilburn, for instance, who had his right foot amputated at an in-network hospital. Even after obtaining assurances from his insurer that the provider was in network, he still found himself stuck with costly medical bills. “I found out they used out-of-network providers when they assured me they would [not]. They would not dismiss the bills and I had no alternative but to file for bankruptcy,” said George, after receiving surprise medical bills totaling $60,000.

With the signing of the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, the state has taken an important step toward protecting consumers from the nightmare scenario George experienced. Georgia is the 16th state to have adopted comprehensive protections against surprise medical bills, covering an estimated 2.5 million Georgia residents when the law goes into effect in 2021.

As a bonus, the legislation also allows Georgia to establish an all payer claims database (APCD), which is a powerful tool used by 19 other states. Georgia’s APCD will inform the surprise billing payment resolution process, but will also be used to help policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates develop better understandings of health care costs, use of services, population health trends, and disparities.

Thank you to all who followed the surprise billing debate and helped bring it across the finish line by contacting your legislators at each stage of the process!

This win was a long time in the making, and a very committed group of state leaders worked tirelessly on surprise medical bill protections for many years. That includes the bill sponsors, Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Rep. Lee Hawkins, Chairman Richard Smith,  and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and their staffs. Georgia Watch and Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) were fortunate to play meaningful roles as well.


The beginning of the debate

The Georgia General Assembly’s consideration of surprise billing protections stretches back to 2015 when legislators began to look at the inter-related issues of network adequacy and surprise out-of-network medical billing (called surprise billing or balance billing). Following the 2015 legislative session, the Georgia Senate convened the Consumer and Provider Protection Act study committee to look at these issues and to which GHF’s then Executive Director was appointed.

Picture of a speaker at a podium

To buttress the work of the committee and highlight the importance of addressing both surprise billing and network adequacy for consumers, Georgia Watch and GHF held the Getting What You Pay For policy forum in February 2016. As a result of the study committee’s work, the policy forum, and powerful advocacy by Georgia Watch and GHF, the 2016 legislative session saw the successful passage of SB 302, which required health insurers to maintain accurate lists (called “provider directories”) of in-network medical providers.

While the state legislature did not have the appetite to take on surprise billing in all of its complexities in 2016, Georgia Watch and GHF knew this important consumer issue had the attention of policymakers.


Stalemate

We did not want to lose the momentum for surprise billing protections. Using the time between the 2016 legislative session and the start of the 2017 session, Georgia Watch and GHF worked closely with legislative leaders to inform their thinking on the issue and to craft legislation. Unfortunately, the legislative options put forward by state leaders in the 2017 session failed because of disagreements between insurers and providers about how to resolve payment disputes.

Dedicated leadership by legislators and continued partnership with consumer advocates could not overcome the entrenched disagreements between doctors and hospitals, and health insurance companies over the costs of care. This dynamic continued through the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, leaving consumers vulnerable to expensive, unfair medical bills through no fault of their own.


“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Recognizing the on-going stalemate, Georgia Watch and GHF thought carefully about how to overcome this impasse. After studying surprise billing successes in other states, we agreed that success would require a united front from legislative leaders with a Georgia-specific solution.

Georgia Watch and GHF approached Sen. Hufstetler, Chairman Smith, and Rep. Hawkins about pursuing a “united front” strategy in the summer of 2019, and as a result of the trusting relationships we had built with them over many years, they agreed to participate and guide the process. Through GHF’s relationships at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reform, we were able to bring in national experts on surprise billing who shared the latest information on state and federal proposals and discussed how other states tackled major issues, both of which helped bring a few fresh ideas to the table. Sen. Hufstetler and Reps. Smith and Hawkins—as eager as we were to break the stalemate—used that information and input from Georgian Watch and Georgians for a Healthy Future to develop a solution that works for Georgia but that was informed by efforts in other states.

This bi-cameral strategy attracted the support of Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Duncan, both of whom had already expressed interest in passing surprise billing protections. When HB 888 and SB 359 were introduced in January, state leaders showed courage and commitment by sticking with the approach they had collectively developed, even over the objections of some stakeholders.

As the bill moved through the General Assembly, more state legislators, hospitals, and provider groups lent their support to the legislation. Moving this bill across the finish line involved negotiation among multiple parties, support from our partners in the patient and consumer advocacy community, storytelling from consumers who had experienced surprise bills, and a reliance on the trusted relationships that Georgia Watch and GHF had with state leaders.

Our efforts now move to the Georgia Department of Insurance (DOI) and the Office of Health Strategy & Coordination (OHSC). DOI will write the rules that guide the implementation of surprise billing protections which will take effect on January 1, 2021. The OHSC will develop funding for and lead the creation of Georgia’s all payer claims database.


It is rare for a state to go from no protections to comprehensive protections in one fell swoop, especially with the near unanimous support we saw in the Georgia General Assembly. Georgia Watch and GHF believe that this success demonstrates the incredible impact of long-term, sustained consumer advocacy at the Georgia Capitol and in other spaces where decisions are made. This kind of advocacy takes staff time, focus, expertise, and resources, all of which are provided by individual donors and philanthropic funders like you.

Our organizations work for you but we cannot do our work without you! Please support our consumer advocacy efforts with a donation today. Thank you!

Consider a donation to our partners at Georgia Watch too!


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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: Crossover & COVID-19 edition 2020

A statement from Georgians for a Healthy Future regarding COVID-19


Like many of you, our team is monitoring the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak closely. We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well during these uncertain times. 

We are grateful for the actions of Georgia leaders to protect the health and safety of individuals and communities across the state. We encourage all of you to help prevent the spread of the virus by staying home, avoiding group gatherings, washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and following the guidance of public health experts.

Unfortunately, this outbreak has exposed the many shortcomings of our nation’s health care system while reinforcing how important it is for all Georgians and people across the country to have access to health coverage and care. While our policymakers and health system leaders are acting quickly to expand Georgians’ pathways to testing, treatment, and care, many Georgians currently lack health care coverage or are at risk of losing it as a result of the virus. Georgia’s elected leaders should act immediately to close Georgia’s coverage gap and extend Medicaid coverage to all low-income Georgians. Closing the Medicaid coverage gap supports good health by ensuring that people confronting COVID-19 do not go untracked and untreated. This is one of several critical steps Georgia leaders should take to promote the health and economic security of all Georgians during this unprecedented health crisis.
 

We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and encourage state leadership to take effective action to provide access to health care for all Georgians. Thank you for your continued support.


Legislative Update: Week 9

Crossover Day brings action before suspension of legislative session

Last Thursday, March 12th 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. The General Assembly finalized changes to the current state budget (FY2020) before suspending the legislative session on Friday, March 13th due to safety concerns about COVID-19. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston have committed to resuming the 2020 legislative session when public health concerns subside.
In the sections below, you will find a rundown of consumer health legislation and their statuses following Crossover Day. Those that “crossed over” remain viable and those that “did not cross over” are considered dead for this year. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here

The General Assembly convened this morning for a one-day special session. They are expected to pass a resolution approving Governor Kemp’s declaration of a public health emergency. With this action, Governor Kemp will have additional power and authority to manage the state’s response to COVID-19.


Our priorities

Surprise billing legislation companion bills cross over

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. 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. Both bills have crossed over from their chambers of origin to the opposite chamber. 


Legislation to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage crosses over

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. HB 1114 was approved by the House last Tuesday.


Crossover Day recap

HB 792: Amended FY 2020 Budget | SENT TO 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 has been sent to the Governor.
 



HB 793: FY 2021 Budget | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 793 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY 2021 budget, read the Community HealthBehavioral Health, and Public Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. 



HB 511: Rural transit bill | CROSSED OVER
 

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. 
 



HB 544: Mental health emergency involuntary treatment | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

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.
 


HB 719:  Effort to modernize HIV laws | CROSSED OVER
 

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 731: | Tobacco tax increase | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

HB 731, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, would raise Georgia’s tobacco tax to $1.87 from its current level of $0.37.


HB 760: Mental health; peace officer authorization  | DID NOT CROSS OVER

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.


HB 842: Gracie’s Law – organ transplant discrimination| CROSSED OVER

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 864: | Excise tax on vaping products | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 864, sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Rich 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. 



HB 918: Restricts onerous PBM audits of pharmacies | CROSSED OVER

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.



HB 946: Increases accountability for PBMs | CROSSED OVER
 

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.



HB 947: Examining the costs of PBMs in Medicaid | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 947, 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.


HB 1079: Authorizes full Medicaid expansion through an 1115 waiver  | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 1079, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would allow the state to submit a new 1115 waiver that would expand Medicaid to all Georgians making less than 138% of the federal poverty line.


HB 1114: Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage | CROSSED OVER
 

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.
 


HB 1151: Network adequacy | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 1151, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would increase consumer access to health care by imposing quantitative standards on insurance companies’ provider networks. Georgia has the narrowest provider networks in the country, forcing people to pay more to find care outside of their insurance plan’s approved providers. Network adequacy standards would ensure that consumers can access a provider in their insurance  network for all covered benefits.


HB 1153: Short-term limited duration plans | DID NOT CROSS OVER


HB 1153, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would limit short-term health plans to 3 months and provide consumer protections like protections for people with pre-existing conditions.


HR 1280: Addressing childhood lead exposure | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

HR 1280, introduced by Rep. Katie Dempsey, establishes a Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure to address the issue of thousands of Georgia children under six years of age who were found to have lead poisoning, which is irreversible and can cause speech, language, and behavioral problems, lower IQ levels, and nervous system damage.

*Note: Because this is a resolution (rather than a bill), this resolution is still viable for passage and could be used to establish a House study committee.


SB 298: Raising age to purchase tobacco and vaping products| DID NOT CROSS OVER

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. 


SB 303: Georgia Right to Shop Act | CROSSED OVER

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 313: Benchmarking for prescription drug prices | CROSSED OVER
 

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.



SB 348: Consumer Right to Access Act | DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 348, sponsored by Senator Kirkpatrick, is aimed at addressing network adequacy. The bill includes similar language to SB 352 (below) and also directs Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner to set quantitative network adequacy standards to ensure Georgia consumers have adequate access to care within their insurance plans.


SB 352: Online provider directories | CROSSED OVER

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.


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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.)


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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.)


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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: 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.


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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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