A safe prediction for the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly is that dozens of bills involving health care will be up for...

A safe prediction for the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly is that dozens of bills involving health care will be up for consideration. That’s the case every year under the Gold Dome.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol BuildingBut given the likelihood this year of a short session, ending in mid-March, it’s also a good bet that many health bills will be sidetracked or stalled before they come to a vote.

Some important issues will certainly be debated. And experts say proposals related to medical malpractice reform, state health care regulation and Obamacare are expected to gain traction, or at least draw plenty of attention, in the session that begins next week.

Still, health care is not likely to dominate the agenda as it did last year, when the hospital provider fee took up a lot of legislative oxygen during the first weeks of the 2013 session.

Here’s a roundup of some of the important legislative issues in health care:

The budget, always closely watched by the medical industry and consumer advocates, is expected not to contain cuts to health agencies. Last year’s financial blueprint called for reductions in payments for Medicaid services to dentists, nursing homes and other medical providers, but those cuts were eliminated in the final hours of the session.

Primary care physicians, who have waited for years to get a pay raise for Medicaid services, are overdue to get one under the Affordable Care Act, but it may be March before they see it.

Malpractice reform will be interesting to watch. Some proponents want to scrap the current system in favor of an arrangement resembling worker’s comp. Opponents call the idea unconstitutional and unwise. With Gov. Nathan Deal not taking a side so far, and a short legislative session anticipated, the measure may have trouble passing.

In recent years, Georgia’s certificate-of-need laws have sparked intense clashes at the state Capitol, with major groups within the industry taking opposing sides. CON is a complex set of regulations governing medical facilities’ expansion and building, as well as services such as obstetrics and heart surgery.

Hospital Outpatient Entrance SignExpected on the CON front is another attempt from doctor groups to exempt multi-service outpatient surgery centers owned by physicians from the state regulatory process. The issue divides physicians and hospitals, and it will raise strong opposition from the hospital industry.

Another CON-related issue may surface with a movement toward allowing a hospital to be built in Columbia County, a populous area west of Augusta that currently has no such facility.

The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, may provide some fireworks, as it did last year. On the one side, several organizations plan Moral Monday rallies against Gov. Deal’s decision not to expand Medicaid. Expansion is called for under the ACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states must decide for themselves whether to do it, and Deal is not expected to budge from his stand.

On the other side, Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) has introduced a bill to block state agencies from implementing any provisions of Obamacare. It would prohibit state employees, state agencies, public colleges and universities from enforcing or implementing the Affordable Care Act. Such a step could have constitutional implications, though.

Speaking of political fireworks, a bill to allow the sale of real fireworks in the state is expected to return and get consideration. Currently, sparklers are the only pyrotechnics that can be sold in Georgia. The chief proponent of the legislation, state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), says Georgia loses millions of dollars every year when residents cross into neighboring states to buy fireworks.

Proposals to loosen gun restrictions in the state, including allowing students to carry weapons on college campuses, will return as a hot topic. Supporters came close to getting a gun bill passed last year. Opponents include the state Board of Regents, which governs the University System of Georgia.

Also expected to gain notice are health-related proposals that would seek to:

Strengthen accountability requirements for hospital authorities across the state.

Give advanced practice nurses the authority to order imaging tests.

Create licensing of lactation consultants, who help mothers with breastfeeding.

Build the physician workforce in rural Georgia.

Alert consumers to pricing changes for “specialty tier’’ drugs.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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