Legislative twists: A standoff on nursing bill, and a boost for sports medicine center

A wild day in health care at the state Capitol on Tuesday began with a morning legislative hearing on something Democrats have sought for years: Medicaid expansion.

No vote was taken on the expansion legislation, which was presented to the House Appropriations subcommittee on health.

The day also included a health panel passing two bills to protect the elderly and disabled from abuse and exploitation. And later, events progressed to a standoff over a Georgia Board of Nursing proposal, and culminated with a House panel surprising the hospital industry by passing a bill that would ease state restrictions on a sports medicine center to be built in Alpharetta.


Among other bills, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee took up a proposal sponsored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) that aims to add another tool to fight abuse of the elderly and the disabled. Vernon Keenan, the GBI director, told the Senate panel that a “criminal enterprise’’ lures these vulnerable people with the intent of stealing their Social Security payments and other benefits.

The perpetrators even sell the prescriptions of the patients, Keenan said. “They’re living a lavish lifestyle while the victim is destitute.”

The Senate panel passed House Bill 803 unanimously, as it did House Bill 635, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican, that would facilitate the formation of multi-agency teams across the state to share information and coordinate efforts to fight elder abuse.

But all was not harmonious. The end of the panel hearing featured a conflict over a bill that would provide a tax credit for doctors, advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants who give ‘’preceptor’’ training to medical, APRN and PA students. It’s sponsored by Rep. Jodi Lott, an Evans Republican.

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who chairs the Senate panel and is a nurse, had attached other language to the preceptor bill — provisions that would move the Georgia Board of Nursing to the state Department of Community Health from the Secretary of State’s office.


The nursing board proposal was contained in Senate Bill 334, which had passed the chamber overwhelmingly but then got stuck in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

After discussion of the preceptor provisions, Unterman asked Lott whether she would support the nursing board language being attached to her original training language. Lott said she did not agree with the modifications,  and Unterman responded that she would table the preceptor bill.

Later, word came from hospital industry officials that a House Judiciary (Civil) Committee had replaced provisions in Senate Bill 184 on a population health data project. The new language that would help enable America’s leading sports medicine doctor and his investment partners to build a multimillion-dollar facility in Alpharetta that proponents say would create 500 jobs.

The center, in the planning stages for years, is associated with famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews of Alabama, whose notable athlete patients have included Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, John Smoltz, Drew Brees and Brett Favre.

A Senate bill that would have exempted the Legacy Sports Institute from state regulatory requirements seemed to have hit a roadblock in the Senate. But the House committee action appears to have revived the proposal, at least for now.  (Read more about the center and hospital opposition to it in this GHN article.)

The Medicaid expansion effort was presented by Minority Leader Bob Trammell, who noted that most states have pursued expansion under the Affordable Care Act.


Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, said House Bill 669 would put “an insurance card in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of [previously uninsured] Georgians.”

It would “provide a powerful economic booster shot to our rural communities,” he added.

Democrats Pat Gardner of Atlanta and Carolyn Hugley of Columbus backed the proposal.

Since Medicaid expansion became an option several years ago, it has gained no support from Georgia’s Republican legislative leadership or Gov. Nathan Deal, who say it would be too costly. And with the legislative session ending next week, Medicaid expansion looks like a proposal more suited for the future than the present.

Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro), chair of the health subcommittee, told Trammell that “we all know that we have more to do, even though we’ve made a lot of progress, albeit as you say, it’s slow and we’re not where we want to be.

“It is a complicated issue,’’ Parrish added. “I hope we’ll all work together, both sides of the aisle, to come up with solutions that will benefit all the citizens of Georgia.’’