Raymond and Rebecca Spinelli came to the state Capitol on Tuesday looking for relief for their daughter, McKenzie. The 4-year-old has a mitochondrial disease....

Raymond and Rebecca Spinelli came to the state Capitol on Tuesday looking for relief for their daughter, McKenzie.

The 4-year-old has a mitochondrial disease. That’s a condition in which the mitochondria – tiny parts of almost every cell – cannot efficiently turn sugar and oxygen into energy, so the cells do not work correctly.

The Spinellis at the Capitol

The Spinellis at the Capitol.

As a result, McKenzie suffers from neurological problems, along with gastrointestinal and muscular problems that cause her pain, her parents say.

The Spinellis came to Atlanta from their Cumming home to promote a proposal to allow medical marijuana in Georgia.

Other health care topics getting visibility in the first week of the General Assembly include proposals on autism, facility regulatory rules, Medicaid payments, and raising the state cigarette tax. 

Mitochondrial diseases are among the conditions listed in the medical marijuana bill as making patients eligible for treatment. The bill was developed by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who battled unsuccessfully for a similar plan last year.

He has emphasized that the bill would legalize the substance only for people with certain strictly defined medical diagnoses.

Referring to her daughter, Rebecca Spinelli told GHN that passage of the bill “would help her.’’ Spinelli cited the experience of another child with a mitochondrial disease. His family moved him to Colorado, where bans on marijuana have been largely rescinded, to get the youngster legal access to medical cannabis treatment.

“We don’t want to relocate,’’ she said.

Rep. Allen Peake

Rep. Allen Peake

Peake has jettisoned part of the legislation that called for a state marijuana growing program to produce the oil.

The current proposal would give Georgians immunity from state prosecution if they possess cannabis oil  – or transport it to Georgia from somewhere else – to treat the defined diagnoses, which include children’s seizure disorders.

But parents of children with these disorders Tuesday urged Gov. Nathan Deal to reconsider his stance that Georgia is not ready to grow medical marijuana, WSB-TV reported.

Mike Hopkins, whose daughter Micaela is improving since their move to Colorado in December, told WSB-TV, “When we received the oil in Colorado we signed a document saying we would not leave the state of Colorado with this medicine.  That makes it illegal to leave the state of Colorado,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1 would require health insurers to cover “applied behavior analysis” for children 6 and younger diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (Senate Bill 1). A similar bill died in the waning hours of the 2014 General Assembly session.

There’s also talk of a proposal to ease the state’s health care regulatory rules for Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s facility in Newnan. And resuming the Medicaid pay hike for primary care physicians is another issue of interest in the health care industry.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is apparent momentum for an effort that would raise the tax on cigarettes in the state. It’s an issue that has fizzled several times before at the Georgia General Assembly.

Cigarette BurningExperts estimate that $1.25 increase in the state tax could raise $350 million. That money could go to transportation, Medicaid or other major initiatives.

Georgia currently has the third-lowest state cigarette tax in the nation at 37 cents per pack. The average nationally is $1.54, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Studies have shown that increasing this tax leads to lower consumption of cigarettes.

June Deen of the American Lung Association in Georgia told GHN on Tuesday that the increased levy “just makes sense.”

“It also just makes sense to take a more well-rounded look at revenues,’’ Deen said. “When you do, the most reasonable place to look is at our abysmally low cigarette tax.”

A higher tax, she said, is a “real boost to reducing tobacco use, both in kids and in adults who are looking to quit.”

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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