Legislative Update – Week 9 – 2019

With Crossover Day behind us, the House reconvened under the Gold Dome for the ninth week of the legislative session on Monday, March 11. Now that we have passed this major legislative milestone, we quickly got back to work and considered several Senate measures, many of which focused on enhancing quality health care in Georgia.

My colleagues and I unanimously adopted House Resolution 135 to support Georgians living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. HR 135 urges the U.S. Congress to change the current processing time for patients who are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance benefit assistance. Under current federal law, patients are required to wait five months after being diagnosed with ALS before receiving their Social Security Disability Insurance benefit payments  It is estimated that more than 20,000 Americans may be living with ALS at any given time, with military veterans being approximately twice as likely to develop ALS. The majority of ALS patients have a life expectancy of two to five years after receiving their diagnosis. Because of the gravity of this disease, the House adopted HR 135, which recognizes that citizens living with ALS cannot wait for benefits and encourages Congress to respond to these needs.

The House also unanimously passed legislation that would provide citizens with a new pathway to become an organ donor. Not only does Senate Bill 99 promote public education and awareness for the ever-increasing need for organ donors in Georgia, this measure would also allow those applying for a hunting, fishing or trapping license to have the option to register to become an organ donor through the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) online hunting licensing system,  similar to the way citizens can sign-up for organ donor status through a state driver’s license application. If signed into law, this bill would educate citizens about the life-saving gift of organ donation and could increase the number of donors available to help the 5,330 patients in Georgia who are currently waiting for organ or tissue transplants.

Also this week, the House adopted House Resolution 403 to advocate for Georgians with disabilities. The House unanimously adopted HR 403 to ask convenience stores to provide easy access to disabled customers by posting signs informing them about assistance available for refueling.  Currently, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires self-service gas stations or convenience stores to provide additional services for citizens with disabilities, but these laws have not been strictly enforced.  This resolution supports Georgians with disabilities by calling on store owners to adhere to federal law.

The House continued to promote greater health care opportunities for our citizens this week with the passage of Senate Bill 16. This measure would add Georgia to the list of 25 other states that are part of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. This compact would allow qualified physicians moving to Georgia from a compact member state to go through an expedited licensure process to practice across state borders and become licensed in multiple states.  In order for a doctor to be admitted to practice under this act, the doctor must be licensed under the prevailing standard for medical licensure, and all applicants would be required to pay for and pass a criminal background check. This bill would address doctor shortages and the lack of accessible health care, especially in our rural areas, and would expand the use of telemedicine, which is essential to developing innovative health care resources within our rural communities. SB 16 would help our state license qualified doctors more efficiently and would help all Georgians receive greater access to health care without having to travel to do so.

Additionally, the House passed Senate Bill 18, or the Direct Primary Care Act, which would provide an alternative approach to affordable health care by allowing primary care providers to  serve a patient through a direct primary care agreement. This would allow patients to pay a monthly fee to a participating physician in order to receive care, and the agreement would not be considered insurance and therefore, would not be subject to state insurance laws or insurance billing. Under the Direct Primary Care Act, a physician that is entering into a direct primary care agreement would not need a certificate of authority or license other than maintaining a current license to practice medicine in Georgia. The payment agreements would include a 30-day notice for either the patient or the doctor if either party chooses to terminate the contract. This measure would allow physicians providing health care services under a direct primary care agreement the right to decline a patient if the physician is unable to provide the appropriate level and type of health care services the patient needs. SB 18 would provide citizens with an alternative avenue towards efficient and affordable health care by removing the unnecessary red tape.

Finally, there is legislation being considered that would end surprise billing in hospitals by third party providers. I very much support this sensible measure and am hopeful that it will pass this session.

For the final eight legislative days, as we continue working with the Senate to ensure the final passage of meaningful legislation, I encourage you to contact me  with any concerns you might have about any of the bills that are up for consideration in the House or Senate. Your comments are always important to me, and I hope to hear from you soon. You can call my office at (404) 656-5024, or email me at bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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