Georgia consistently ranks low among the states in all measures of health, especially in rural parts. As a freshman Senator with a special interest in health care legislation, I am happy to report that we had a few big successes in the health care arena this session. But there is a lot of work left to be done. Here are some issues that were covered:
Budget: New funding will now be provided for mental health and substance abuse recovery, as well as increased funding for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database for tracking controlled substance prescriptions.
Health Council: A new council was formed that will bring all agencies working on health care together. One of the obstacles to moving Georgia forward has been poor communication between stakeholders who are frequently working on the same problems. The new council will help the state improve access and general health of the state. Telemedicine, waivers and many other topics will be addressed by finally getting everyone involved in the same room.
Distracted Driving: If signed by the governor, this bill will no longer allow holding a cellphone while driving. The law enforcement community has had difficulty enforcing our previous texting while driving law and our fatalities continue to rise. Although adjustments to our behavior will be needed, cellphones can still be used with hands-free technology. Lives will be saved by this legislation much as they were in the past by seatbelt and helmet legislation.
Surprise Billing: Two bills to address the problem of consumers receiving unexpected out-of-network bills were proposed and made it all the way to the final day, but neither passed. There will be more legislation on this subject next session.
Hospitals: A rural health bill allowing “microhospitals” passed so that rural areas that cannot manage a full-service hospital will be able to deliver extended emergency care. Several bills addressing our state’s Certificate of Need program did not pass, although a study committee was formed to further address this issue. Also, tax credits for preceptor programs did not pass, however the rural hospital tax credit was increased to 100%.
Opioids: The omnibus bill forming a “commission” with a drug czar did not pass, but the Attorney General has a working task force on the subject. In addition, a commission was formed to study and make recommendations on medical marijuana and its results addressing conditions including PTSD and chronic pain. The commission’s focus will be specifically on access to THC oil and will fall under the State Medical Board.
Insurance: Step Therapy bills did not pass, which would have allowed exceptions to insurance requirements for certain drugs to be used. Also, no progress was made on the individual health insurance market, but this will be addressed by the Health Council. We are moving forward to address certain claim denials by creating a study committee to look at retrospective ER claim denials.
As you can see, there was a lot of activity on health care but only a small number of these bills passed. Certainly many of these issues will be ongoing next year and in the future, and I look forward to continuing to be a voice for patients under the Gold Dome.
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