This Week Under the Gold Dome: Health Care Takes Center Stage

We’re getting close to crunch time in the 2014 legislative session as today marks Day 35 and the next-to-last week before Sine Die.  Here is a recap of Crossover Day and the 8th week of the General Assembly.

Last week, we took a look at some of the early events on Crossover Day including the passage of Spencer’s House Bill 750 which allows for non-profit organizations that promote access to affordable housing to be exempt from the requirement of getting a state license to offer low-interest mortgages.  The House adjouned on Crossover Day after 11:00pm so after a little bit of sleep and a full week of work, lets check out the rundown for the rest of Day 30.

Medical cannabis and the Affordable Care Act were two of the more prominent issues amongst the 48 bills passed by the House last Monday.  Haleigh’s Hope Act, named after Haleigh Cox, a Monroe County 4-year-old who suffers from severe seizures that have shown to be treatable with cannabidoil, passed the House by a vote of 171 to 4.  This bill allows for doctors at academic research centers to recommend the use of a marijuana extract for the treatment of seizure disorders.  The issue came to light during the session as families told their stories of moving across the country to states like Colorado where the treatment is legal.  The House held a bi-partisan, respectful debate on everything from medical impact of seizure disorders to the stigma of medical marijuana as a form of treatment before approving the legislation and sending it to the Senate.

Two bills related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed the House on Monday evening.  House Bill 707 bans any state entity from implementing any part of the Affordable Care Act, including the operation of a Navigator program to help consumers find and understand their new health insurance options under the federal law.  The University of Georgia was rewarded a $1.7 million grant to operate the consumer assistance program across the state.  In the event HB 707 passes the Senate and is signed by the Governor, that program would stop.  Research conducted by George Washington University shows that states that pass laws regulating Navigator activity and don’t expand Medicaid (more on that below) have a poor outlook on the impact the ACA can have on helping low-income families and people with pre-existing conditions access care.  HB 707 also prohibits the state of Georgia from setting up its own health insurance exchange like 27 other states have done.  House Bill 707 passed the House by a margin of 115 to 59.

House Bill 990 also passed the House by a vote of 118 to 57 on Monday evening.  This legislation prohibits the Governor from expanding Medicaid without the approval of the state legislature.  This bill also places another hurdle between low-income families and much needed health care.  However, this legislation also presents an opportunity for debate on the bi-partisan Medicaid expansion plans that have been enacted in states like Iowa and Arkansas.  We reported on the compromise plan enacted in Iowa last month.

Before session started, Spencer cited access to health care as one of three Foundations for Georgia’s Future because healthy students and healthy workers will ensure our state prospers.  Haleigh’s Hope Act is a great example of our legislature setting aside differences and preconceived notions to build that foundation.  Its passage will provide a better quality of life for Georgia children who suffer from seizure disorders.  All of our debates on the future of the health care system in Georgia should happen this way if we want to help strengthen our communities, our schools and our economy.  Our neighbors and our fellow Georgians deserve nothing less.

The House began to take up Senate Bills after Day 30 and passed legislation prohibiting a minimum waiting time for filing a missing person’s report and allowing wood construction in schools if compliant with minimum building codes.  Many of the bills passed by the Senate will begin to come to the floor this week as the legislature works today through Day 38 (Thursday).  The final two days of the session will be next Tuesday and Thursday.  Check us out on Facebook and Twitter and stay tuned for the closing of the 152nd Georgia General Assembly.  Have a great week!