39th day: Votes on Medicaid, drug tests, abortion

An anti-Obamacare bill that appeared dead in the Senate apparently still had a pulse late Tuesday afternoon, the 39th and penultimate day of the 2014 General Assembly session.

But another bill targeting an Affordable Care Act provision passed the Senate as expected and now moves to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

That second bill, HB 990, would require legislative approval of any expansion of Medicaid in Georgia. The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton), who has argued that Georgia can’t afford Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents under expansion, as outlined by the ACA.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol Building

Gov. Deal has opposed Medicaid expansion as well, citing the cost to the state.

Also Tuesday, police arrested 39 people at Georgia’s Capitol during protests over the Republican refusal to expand Medicaid. The protests were organized by the Moral Monday Georgia coalition.

Those arrested chanted in support of an expansion from the Senate gallery, rallied outside the Senate doors and held a sit-in inside Deal’s office. They were charged with illegally disrupting the General Assembly, WSB reported.

Meanwhile, two other high-profile health bills, one involving drug testing of food stamp and welfare applicants, and the other aimed at prohibiting coverage of abortion in the health insurance exchange, passed a second chamber in the Republican-controlled Legislature Tuesday and moved closer to becoming law.

The General Assembly adjourns Thursday for the year.

The furor over HB 707

The anti-ACA legislation that’s struggling for survival, HB 707, has captured the attention of the health care industry, policy experts and consumer advocates throughout the General Assembly session.

It would prohibit Georgia employees of any state unit from spending state funds to advocate for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision.

The legislation would prevent the state from creating its own health care exchange and would prevent the Georgia insurance commissioner from enforcing the ACA’s health insurance mandates. It would eventually halt the navigator program run by the University of Georgia.

The legislation has been strongly supported by Tea Party groups, who see HB 707 as a way to block federal interference in the health care system in Georgia.

But the Senate Rules Committee voted Monday against sending the legislation to the chamber floor.

That vote provoked an irate response from Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), the bill’s sponsor, who said in a statement Monday: “I will identify the Republican Benedict Arnolds, the King George the Third and his myrmidons who shipwrecked [this] path breaking, patriotic bill (HB 707) to prevent the federal Leviathan from commandeering the machinery of state government or resources to enforce ill-conceived federal health insurance mandates.”

Rep. Jason Spencer
Rep. Jason Spencer

Yet Spencer told GHN on Tuesday that he is not giving up on the legislation. He said he hopes to attach HB 707 to another bill that could still be adopted before the end of the session.

HB 707 already is attached to SB 292, which passed the Senate and would establish an Alzheimer’s Disease Registry within the Department of Public Health.

That has angered the Alzheimer’s Association, which said the anti-Obamacare legislation “has jeopardized the registry bill. “We’re greatly concerned about this,’’ said Ginny Helms of the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s organization.

SB 292 will have to go back to the Senate for a vote before it is adopted. Spencer, however, doesn’t want to take any chances the Senate will balk at the House amendment.

He told GHN he wants to attach HB 707 to another House bill.

Food stamp drug testing

Meanwhile Tuesday, the Senate passed an amended HB 772, sponsored by Greg Morris (R-Vidalia), which would require some food stamp and welfare applicants to submit to drug testing if suspected of illegal drug use.

Opponents have argued the legislation is unconstitutional because they say it discriminates against the poor. Morris has said the bill will prevent taxpayer dollars from subsidizing illegal drug use.

And the House approved SB 98, which would ban coverage of abortion services in health insurance plans offered in the ACA’s federal health care exchange. The bill passed the House on Tuesday with some changes, and returned to the Senate for agreement.

Its sponsor, Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), has said the goal is to prevent the use of state and federal taxes to pay for abortions.

Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock of Atlanta pointed out that the bill would bar insurance coverage for women who are victims of rape or incest.

GHN editor Andy Miller contributed to this article.