Anti-ACA bill gets late-night approval

An anti-Obamacare bill that appeared to have died in the Georgia Senate was revived late Tuesday night and now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk to become law.

HB 707 had captured the attention of the health care industry, policy experts and consumer advocates throughout this year’s General Assembly session.

Rep. Jason Spencer
Rep. Jason Spencer

The legislation would prohibit Georgia employees of any state unit from spending state funds to advocate for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision, and would eventually halt the navigator program run by the University of Georgia. Navigators are people trained to assist those seeking insurance through the health care exchange under the ACA.

The legislation also would prevent the state from creating its own health care exchange. Georgians now use a federally run exchange.

Just before midnight Tuesday, the Senate approved HB 943, which earlier in the day was amended and passed by the House to include HB 707.

HB 707’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), told GHN Tuesday afternoon he was working with colleagues to find a House bill to amend with his legislation.

A provision prohibiting the state insurance commissioner from enforcing ACA regulations was removed from the final version.

Tom Crawford of the Georgia Report noted that the debate over 707 and a second Obamacare bill — which required legislative approval of a Medicaid expansion — revealed a rare rift in what is usually a solid Republican caucus in the Georgia Senate.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), an anesthetist who works at Redmond Regional Hospital, spoke out against the effort to choke off Medicaid expansion through the second bill, HB 990, arguing that the refusal to accept federal Medicaid money was hurting financially distressed hospitals.

“By not expanding, we’re telling them we’re not going to let you get federal money for patients that you’re forced to treat for free, but the state’s not going to pay for them either,” Hufstetler said.  “You have to treat them for free and figure it out. I’m very concerned this stance will cause more hospitals to close.”

Hufstetler joined with Senate Democrats to vote against the final passage of HB 990 and HB 943, Crawford reported.

The Spencer-sponsored 707 legislation had been strongly supported by Tea Party groups, who see it 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 Monday from Spencer, who laced his statement with Revolutionary War references. “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,” he said.

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

That 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.