Making the cut on Crossover Day

A handful of health-related bills moved forward on Crossover Day at the Georgia General Assembly.

A piece of legislation must pass at least one chamber by the close of the 30th legislative day to have a shot at becoming law during the session. Thursday was this year’s deadline.

Bills passed by one chamber before the midnight deadline include one that would create a new home for the dentistry and pharmacy licensing boards, and another that would publicize insurance policy costs related to Obamacare.

Among others that survived Crossover Day are bills that seek to expand use of playgrounds after school, aid prosecutions of elder abuse cases, and give advanced practice nurses the authority to order imaging tests.

They join a range of other health bills that had already passed one chamber this year, including measures that would allow fireworks sales in Georgia; increase boating safety; ease use of epinephrine in schools; and require school athletes with concussions to get medical clearance before returning to play.

None of the above, however, equals the thunder of Senate Bill 24, already signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal. The high-profile legislation — the first bill to move through both chambers this year — will lead to renewal of the hospital provider fee, filling a more-than-$400 million hole in the Medicaid program’s budget.

Passage of that law represented a huge victory for the state’s hospital community, which also successfully fought off a bill that would have exempted physician-owned multi-service surgery centers from the state’s health care regulatory process. (Here’s a related GHN story.)

A major bill to revamp Georgia’s medical malpractice system failed to advance on Crossover Day. Another measure that hit a dead end for the year was one to promote the signing of voluntary agreements that would send nursing home patients’ injury claims to arbitration.

As the session continues, health industry lobbyists and organizations are still worried about reductions in the pending budgets of the state’s Medicaid and social services agencies.

The House passed a bill Thursday that would transfer the licensing boards for dentistry and pharmacists to the Department of Community Health from the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said House Bill 132 would create more government bureaucracy and siphon money from the processing of licenses for hundreds of thousands of other professionals.

But Martha Phillips of the Georgia Dental Association told GHN that the secretary of state’s office can’t keep up with the current level of requests for renewing licenses and pursuing consumer complaints against dentists. The move does not create a new board from scratch but simply moves the current setup to Community Health, she said.

Elizabeth Appley, a lobbyist for the Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Association, which opposes the bill, said the legislation would remove the independent oversight  by the secretary of state and would help perpetuate the state’s restrictive laws governing hygienists’ practices.

Andrew Freeman, a lobbyist for the Georgia Pharmacy Association, told GHN that House Bill 132 would put dentists and pharmacists into the same agency that houses the board for physicians, allowing the three professional groups “to work more efficiently under one roof.’’

The Pharmacy Association also supports a bill that would allow pharmacists and nurses, under a doctor’s supervision, to administer more vaccines to adults. The legislation, which passed the Senate on Thursday, would “allow greater access to health care across the state,’’ Freeman said.

Meanwhile, the House unanimously approved legislation that would expand the list of crimes on the books involving physical, mental and financial abuse of seniors, and to make some existing crimes felonies.

Kathryn Fowler of the Georgia Council on Aging told GHN that the state has seen an increase in elder abuse, “including a lot of financial exploitation.’’

The Senate passed GOP-backed legislation that would require health insurers to list how much of a policyholder’s premium increase is due to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 federal law informally known as Obamacare.

Also clearing the Senate was a bill that would allow advanced practice nurses to order imaging tests. Georgia is the only state that still restricts them from doing so, a nurses group says.

The House approved legislation that would facilitate children’s use of playgrounds after school, clarifying liability concerns.

Polly McKinney of Voices for Georgia’s Children said more playground accessibility would help Georgia fight its childhood obesity problem. “For us, it’s a matter of creating safe spaces for kids to exercise,’’  she said.

In the days remaining in the legislative session, the health industry will battle proposed reductions in health agency budgets for fiscal 2014 year, which begins in July.

These include a 0.74 percent pay cut for Medicaid providers other than hospitals, primary care physicians, rural health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and hospices.

Pediatricians are concerned about Medicaid eliminating reimbursement for subspecialists’ consultations on complex medical cases.

Groups representing seniors, meanwhile, are battling against proposed reductions for Alzheimer’s services and respite care services, and for adult protective workers.

And advocates for people with disabilities are calling for more state funding to reduce the waiting lists for home- and community-based services.