After convening on January 9, the Georgia General Assembly concluded its legislative session in the early morning of March 30. Georgia operates on a two-year session schedule, meaning any bills that did not pass this year may be considered next year.
Certificate of Need
Senate Bill 99 by Sen. Greg Dolezal sought to eliminate the CON program for rural acute care hospitals in specific areas. Although the bill passed the Senate, it did not advance in the House.
Rep. Sharon Cooper introduced HR 603 to establish a House study committee for Certificate of Need Modernization. The bill passed unanimously, and the Senate agreed to create a Senate version of the study committee through SR 279 to include “well-versed in CON” representatives from a nonprofit hospital, a for-profit hospital, and a rural hospital.
The Senate resolution describes the purpose in creating the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform as:
- Georgia’s Certificate of Need laws have remained static despite significant changes in the delivery and cost of health care. Hospitals, doctors, and other providers must work together to meet the challenge of delivering services with better outcomes at a lower cost.
- Georgia needs additional health care facilities to meet the needs of patients, particularly in mental health, surgery, and emergency settings.
- Rural hospitals face an ongoing financial crisis and CON policies should be aligned to support the survival and growth of rural hospitals.
- Reforms should preserve the ability of hospitals to continue to provide open access to all patients in a community
- Legislation accomplishing these goals should be recommended by this study committee to the Senate.
Healthy Babies Act
Sen. Larry Walker III introduced SB 106, the “Healthy Babies Act,” which passed both the House and Senate, and now moves to the Governor’s desk. The bill proposes a pilot program and reporting requirements for remote maternal health clinical services under the Medicaid program.
Student Loan Repayment
SB 246, introduced by Sen. Mike Hodges, has passed both chambers and is awaiting action by the Governor. This bill is meant to help alleviate the nursing shortage by providing student loan repayment for registered professional nurses with a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing employed as faculty members in a nursing program at one of Georgia’s post-secondary institutions.
HB 383, the “Safer Hospitals Act,” introduced by Rep. Matt Reeves, passed the Senate and House, and is heading to the Governor. The bill enhances penalties for aggravated assault and battery committed against emergency health workers and health care workers on a hospital campus.
Consumer Access and Protection
Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick introduced SB 20, the Consumer Access to Contracted Healthcare (CATCH) Act, which passed the House and now moves to the Governor. The bill creates network adequacy standards for commercial health plans regulated by the state and restricts certain health plans from implementing telehealth service coverage requirements. The Commissioner of Insurance would be authorized to define appropriate network adequacy criteria and determine whether a plan’s network meets such criteria. The bill also restricts health plans other than HMOs from implementing requirements for coverage of telehealth services.
Rep. Lee Hawkins introduced HB 295, the “Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act,” which unanimously passed both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s action. The bill implements consumer protections against surprise billing and requires insurers to cover out-of-network emergency services under certain circumstances.
The 2024 state budget was among the last items passed by the General Assembly before adjournment. The $32.4 billion budget provides raises for public school teachers and law enforcement professionals but makes significant cuts to higher education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Governor Brian Kemp has stated that the budget has “significant holes,” requiring continued negotiations before its July 1 effective date.
Mental Health Services
HB 520, introduced by new Speaker Jon Burns, aimed to create new crisis stabilization units, expand Georgia’s student loan forgiveness program for mental health care providers, and increase data sharing across agencies. The bill passed in the House but failed to receive a floor vote in the Senate due to its potential $72 million annual cost to the state. Supporters consider the bill “delayed but not dead” and remain hopeful for additional progress when the General Assembly reconvenes in 2024.
HB 414, introduced by Rep. Shaw Blackmon, passed the Senate unanimously and now heads to the Governor. This bill proposes a grant program within the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to provide behavioral health services to military service members, veterans, and their families. The bill also moves the program from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to the Department of Veteran Services.
The General Assembly approved several key components of Governor Kemp’s proposed tax cuts package, including a $1 billion income tax refund, a temporary suspension of gas and diesel taxes, and a $950 million property tax rebate. These tax cuts were major elements of the governor’s successful re-election campaign.
SB 33 aimed to provide cash payments to parents pursuing their child’s education outside of Georgia public schools. However, the bill failed in a contentious 85-89 vote, with a dozen GOP House members representing rural areas joining all but one Democrat in opposing the bill. The opponents argued that the bill would not benefit rural students who lack private school options available to students in urban areas of the state.