Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 13, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 13, 2017

On February 13, 1941, Gov. Eugene Talmadge signed legislation that proposed a Constitutional Amendment changing the 2-year terms for Governor and other statewide Constitutional Officers to 4-year.

On February 13, 1956, Gov. Marvin Griffin signed legislation adopting a new state flag incorporating the Confederate battle flag.

On February 13, 2007, United States Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-Augusta) died at home.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

10:30 AM House Public Safety and Homeland Sec Sub A 606 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE PUBLIC SAFETY AND HOMELAND SECURITY 606 CLOB

1:30 PM HOUSE JUD’Y (NON-CIVIL) 406 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE INFO & AUDITS 506 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE GOV’T OVERSIGHT 125 CAP

Governor Nathan Deal and former Governors Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue attended funeral services for Georgia State Patrol Sergeant Tony Henry, who served on the executive protection details for all three.

Deal also released a statement on the passage of Senate Bill 70.

Gov. Nathan Deal … applauded the legislature on passage of SB 70, the Hospital Medicaid Financing Program. Deal will sign the legislation on Tuesday, February 14.

“The Medicaid program for our state in the next fiscal year’s budget will cost more than $10.5 billion,” said Deal. “One of the funding sources for our Medicaid program comes from the fee paid for by hospitals, amounting to roughly $311 million annually. That is money the state uses in partnership with the federal government, which allots Georgia an additional $600 million for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

“Because of the courage of the General Assembly, Georgia now has $900 million dollars available to us for the Medicaid program. Further, because of their leadership and quick action on this matter, we will not have to take away resources from other portions of the budget.”

SB 70 passed the Senate on February 2 with a vote of  50-3. It passed the House today with a vote of 152-14.

From the story by Katie Foody of the Associated Press on Senate Bill 70:

The fees, adopted in 2010, are based on a percentage of Georgia hospitals’ net patient revenue. The tax is expected to yield more than $300 million from hospitals and allow the state to draw about $600 million in matching federal support for treating low-income residents.

Hospitals that see high numbers of low-income patients get the money back through a higher payment rate from Medicaid. But not all hospitals are made whole or gain financially in the arrangement. Nevertheless, hospital organizations in Georgia supported the extension.

“While this action will not eliminate the many challenges providers still face, it will go a long way toward preventing additional closures and reductions in service,” said Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.

Conservative Republicans did criticize the three-year commitment of this year’s extension amid speculation that President Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress may make significant changes to the federal Medicaid program.

Rep. Scot Turner, a Holly Springs Republican, said he’d be able to support a shorter extension but voted ‘no’ on three years.

“When this program was created in that time of dire emergency for our hospitals it was promised that we would eventually end it,” Turner said.

From Andy Miller and Georgia Health News:

Though the vote was 50-3, the debate beforehand became testy. Democrats called for the state to expand its Medicaid program, as 31 other states have done. Georgia’s Republican leadership has repeatedly rejected that idea, calling it fiscally unsound.

The currently approved provider fee raises money from hospitals, and the funds are then returned to the hospitals through reimbursements. Individual hospitals are reimbursed differing amounts, based on how much Medicaid business they do.

Under the formula, the “winners” are the hospitals that get back more money than they paid through the levy, while the “losers” are those that get back less. The state collects about $310 million from hospitals, which is then matched with $600 million in federal funds.

The debate Thursday included an attempt by Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, to shorten the period of time for the provider fee renewal to one year, from three years as stated in the legislation.

“If we pass Senate Bill 70, the way it’s written, we’re giving away our authority for three years. I don’t like writing a blank check to bureaucrats,” McKoon told his Senate colleagues.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, argued for the three-year time frame, saying that if the federal program changes, the Department of Community Health will cease the collections anyway. “It’s unnecessary to shorten the period of time,’’ he said.

Senate Bill 85 has been amended to allow local distillers to also sell their wares directly to consumers.

A House subcommittee on Thursday amended Senate Bill 85 to afford liquor manufacturers the same rights as their beer brethren.

The move was not unexpected nor unwelcome from supporters of SB 85.

Under the new bill, distilleries can sell customers up to three 750 milliliter bottles of liquor a day and up to 500 barrels a year. Beer brewers can sell up to a case a day to an individual customers.

House Bill 338 by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) addresses financing low-performing schools.

As Deal’s Opportunity School District — a central plank of his second term educational agenda — would have done, the new proposal would allow the state to step into the lowest performing schools and replace the staff or even take over the operation and hand it to someone else to run. Under HB 338, though, local dollars allocated to those schools wouldn’t flow to the state, and the schools would not be absorbed into a new state-run district. Instead, they could be turned over to another, “successful,” school district or to a private nonprofit — or the district could be compelled to bus the students to a better-performing school.

“We still have a growing number of schools in the state that are failing to produce adequate results,” said Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, explaining why this bill is needed. Coomer is a co-sponsor, along with chief co-sponsor Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville.

[I]t contains some harsh penalties, like giving the governor the authority to suspend school board members in districts where at least half the schools are judged to be under-performing.

An element that is sure to be the center of debate is the definition of what, exactly, constitutes an “unacceptable” rating or a determination of “low-performing.” Those words are key, since they would trigger the state intervention after two years for schools and after five for school boards. HB 338 does not tie them to any specific measure, such as standardized state tests.

Ezra Kaplan of the Associated Press writes about “surprise” medical billing and legislation designed to address the problem.

Consumer advocates call the situation “surprise billing,” when a patient goes to a hospital that is covered by her insurance but ends up receiving a bill for out-of-network services. In Georgia, legislators are reviewing a set of bills trying to put an end to the practice.

The core of the problem is a frequent disagreement between physicians and insurers regarding how much they should be paid for services provided, said Zack Cooper, a health economist at Yale University. When the insurance company doesn’t pay as much as the doctor billed, the patient gets stuck with the balance.

In a study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, Cooper and his co-author found that one in five visits to the emergency room may result in surprise billing. A separate study from the Federal Trade Commission using a different data set found the same result.

In Cooper’s study, he found that surprise medical bills average around $600. The highest bill in his data set was almost $20,000. According to a Federal Reserve report, 47% percent of Americans are unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense without selling assets or borrowing money.

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) sponsored a bill that creates a pathway for patients to dispute surprise billing. The responsibility to report the out-of-network charges is still on the patient, but once reported the insurance company and health care provider are responsible for resolving the discrepancy. Unterman said her approach achieves the most important goal: “We have to take the patient out of the middle.”

Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) has introduced a bill that puts the responsibility on the hospitals, physicians, and insurers to make sure that everyone working in a facility is in-network. It also requires hospitals to inform patients from the beginning of treatment about any possible out-of-network charges.

Bill Dawers in Savannah writes that local voters may face another transportation tax proposal on the ballot.

State pensions require more cash in the budget, but some would like to change compensation in response.

State House appropriators continues work on a record-breaking FY2018 state budget.

With the 2017 General Assembly session set to hit the halfway mark at the end of this week, legislative budget writers will be getting busy with Gov. Nathan Deal’s fiscal 2018 spending requests.

The governor’s record $25 billion budget is in the hands of the House Appropriations Committee. The spending plan includes substantial pay raises for Georgia law enforcement officers and child welfare caseworkers and more modest increases for other state employees as well as teachers.

The bond package Deal recommended in January includes two major building projects in downtown Atlanta: a $105 million judicial building to house the Georgia Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals and $55 million for an addition to the Georgia World Congress Center that would increase its contiguous exhibit space to more than 1 million square feet.

The legislature also likely will put the finishing touches on the governor’s $24.3 billion mid-year budget to cover state spending through June 30. The House and Senate already have adopted their versions of the mid-year budget, sending it to a joint conference committee to negotiate a compromise to put up for final votes in the two legislative chambers.

GAGOP Chair Race Debate

Here are three different videos from the GAGOP Chairman’s debate I moderated on Saturday in Dahlonega.

Sixth District Congressional Race and other elections

Governor Deal has issued a Writ of Election for the Sixth Congressional District after the swearing-in of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Congressional District 6 in the United States House of Representatives has become vacant due to the confirmation of the Honorable Tom Price as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, effective February 10, 2017.

Therefore, pursuant to Article V, Section II, Paragraph V of the Constitution of the State of Georgia and Section 21-2-543 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, a Writ of Election is hereby issued to the Secretary of State for a special election to be held on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, to fill the vacancy in United States Congressional District 6 of the United States House of Representatives.

Qualifying for the Special Election begins today and runs through Wednesday. Current office holders who qualify for the Congressional election vacate their seats at the time of qualifying.

The AJC lists the announced and possible candidates, and I’ve added some links:

Republican
Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan | website | Facebook | Twitter
Johns Creek Councilman Bob Gray | website | Facebook | Twitter
Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel | website | Facebook | Twitter
State Sen. Judson Hill | website | Facebook | Twitter
Bruce LeVell | website | Facebook | Twitter
Former state Sen. Dan Moody | website | Facebook | Twitter
State Rep. Betty Price | website | Facebook | Twitter
Kelly Stewart | website | Facebook | Twitter
Kurt Wilson | website | Facebook | Twitter

Democratic
Former state Rep. Sally Harrell | website | Facebook | Twitter
Jon Ossoff | website | Facebook | Twitter
Former state Sen. Ron Slotin | website | Facebook | Twitter

Candidate Bob Gray’s campaign emailed a press release last night.

February 12, 2017 – Johns Creek-based Technology Executive and Conservative Republican Bob Gray launched the first television ad of the Congressional race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

“I believe in the American dream but we are going to have to get our nation back on track…we are going to have to drain the swamp” said Bob Gray in the television ad titled “Outsider”. “I believe we need to send citizens to DC – not attorneys and not politicians – who will be there for a short period of time, solve problems and then go home. I’m a businessman and a family man. Others will call me an Outsider.”

As a business executive, Bob Gray has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 and private equity companies across a range of industries.  His responsibilities have taken him to nearly 30 countries including China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the UK.  As an investor in technology businesses, Bob serves on the board of directors of Ammacore, an Alpharetta-based North American network solutions company. Bob also led the development of the Swift School in Roswell, the largest school in the Southeast devoted to teaching children with dyslexia.

The Gray campaign is the first campaign to go on air with television advertising since Rep. Tom Price was sworn in as Health and Human Services Secretary last Friday.

“We’re quickly building momentum with voters, activists and grassroots leaders who are tired of politics as usual in Washington, DC and are ready for a Business Outsider to represent them in Congress. ” – Joash Thomas, Spokesman for the Bob Gray For Congress campaign.

The ad begins Monday and airs district-wide as the first installment of a six-figure cable buy.

Nineteen-year old Mary Pat Hector was given a place on the ballot for the new Stonecrest City Council.

Opposing candidate George Turner challenged Mary Pat Hector’s candidacy, after questions arose as to whether Hector’s campaign broke Georgia law: candidates must be 21 or older, unless a city ordinance states otherwise.

“If we ignore this law, what will we ignore next?” Turner asked the board.

The Spelman College student argued the Stonecrest city charter allowed her to run for office.

“I believe I had should have the opportunity and at least the right to run… You had to follow by those qualifications, which I did. And I became qualified,” Hector told the board.

The board sided with Hector, stating that the new city’s charter only required candidates to be of “voting age.”

A forum for Roswell City Council candidates will be hosted by the Roswell Woman’s Club on February 28, 2017.

The forum will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 in the Council Chambers at Roswell City Hall.

Candidates who’ve qualified to fill the unexpired term of Kent Igleheart are Tracy Hanley, Lori Henry, Shelley Sears, Marie Willsey and Shawn Wright.

Early voting for the race will be held Monday, Feb. 27 through Friday, March 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents can cast ballots at two locations in Roswell: Roswell Public Library at 115 Norcross Street and East Roswell Public Library at 2301 Holcomb Bridge Road.

The special election will be held March 21.

Healthcare

Senate Bill 123 by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) would lift patient restrictions agreed to by Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

A proposal to build the for-profit specialty hospital in Newnan was accepted in 2008 after legislature amended the state’s CON laws, allowing the facility to be opened in the county only as a “destination cancer hospital.” Georgia hospital lobbyists demanded the classification in order to prevent what was viewed as a duplication of services, a circumstance in which some felt the treatment center would create unfair competition with local, non-profit healthcare facilities already offering cancer care.

Conditions of the classification include allowing only 35 percent of patients treated at the Newnan location to reside in Georgia. In addition, CTCA officials also agreed to a maximum of 50 beds available for patients.

Officials have made several bids to remove CON restrictions, including a motion to reclassify as an acute-care facility in 2015. The previous pursuit, according to CTCA lobbyist Ray Williams, was a regulatory attempt at reclassification. That endeavor having failed, officials are once again seeking a change in legislature.

“In 2017, we are trying a legislative remedy to lift restrictions,” Williams said.

“As a for-profit facility, CTCA is able to pick and choose which patients they serve based upon their ability to pay, the severity of their case, their age or any screening factor they choose. In doing so, they do direct harm to Georgia-based hospitals, many of which are nationally recognized for excellence in cancer treatment,” said Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.

Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals President Monty Veazey also wrote an editorial titled, “Keeping Georgia’s community hospitals healthy,” which ran in the Newnan Times-Herald.

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report that said residents of rural areas are more likely to die from causes such as heart disease, stroke and accidents.

Even more striking is that the report suggests the percentage of potentially preventable deaths is also higher in rural communities. Dr. Tom Frieden, former CDC director, put it simply, saying that the study “shows there is a striking gap in health between rural and urban Americans.”

Georgia is not immune from this disparity. In fact, the same report placed our state among those with the highest number of preventable deaths from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke – at least partly because of lack of access to care.

When a hospital or emergency room closes in rural Georgia, it puts both people and the community at risk. No one wants to live and no company wants to locate in an area without access to quality care. As Georgia Chamber president Chris Clark said at the annual Eggs & Issues breakfast kicking off the legislative session, “We can’t have a healthy economy if over half our counties lose populations and close hospitals.”

[W]e hope great caution will be taken with regard to other health care proposals that may be introduced this year.

The most dangerous of these for Georgia’s rural hospitals would be changes to the certificate of need program, which was specifically designed to ensure access for all – regardless of location, condition or ability to pay for care.

The large majority of Georgia’s hospitals are not-for-profit organizations that commit to providing quality healthcare to all patients. Any profits are required by law to be reinvested in community-based facilities and services. These hospitals also serve as safety nets, providing uncompensated care to patients with limited economic resources. As a result, their financial viability relies upon a balance of insured and uninsured patients.

[The Certificate of Need] program ensures access for all. It also prevents for-profit entities from entering markets based solely on revenue that would come from siphoning off insured patients and more profitable services from the hospitals that are truly serving their communities.

No one denies that there are aspects of our health care system that need to change, but if we do not act wisely, we will only do further harm to communities where people already face a greater risk of poor health and death because they cannot get the care they need.

Our elected leaders have pledged their support to renewing the provider fee. Let’s hope they will soon do the same with regard to keeping Georgia’s certificate of need laws intact for the good of our health, our economy and our future. Access to quality health care for all Georgians depends on it.

Brooks A. Keel, President of Augusta University writes about the role of the University in Georgia’s healthcare system.

As we look closer to home, it may not shock you to know that 30 Georgia counties have a lower life expectancy than developing nations such as El Salvador and Thailand – or that we rank 48th in the nation for the number of uninsured.

The question is: Why? To answer that, we need to take a closer look at access to health care services in Georgia. According to the latest census data, approximately 43 percent of Georgians live in rural communities, where health care services are minimal and sometimes nonexistent.

Since 2001, at least eight of the state’s rural hospitals have closed their doors, and several others are in financial straits, leaving approximately 1.8 million Georgians at a greater risk of negative health and economic hardship because of the loss of local acute-care services.

In addition, clinical services typically offered in rural community hospitals are not reimbursed at the same rate as services and procedures at larger facilities. To make matters worse, rural hospitals have a harder time recruiting physicians and other clinical providers, leaving many residents — a large majority of whom are uninsured, older and have increasingly severe health conditions — to seek other health care options.

Rural hospitals aren’t just health resources for their communities, but economic engines, with many jobs either directly employed or supported by the local hospital.

As one of the nation’s most populous and fastest-growing states, lower tax revenues as a result of rural hospital closures could devastate the state’s economy. A recent Georgia Hospital Association report estimated that Georgia’s hospitals contributed $43.6 billion to the state’s economy and provided more than 100,000 full- and part-time jobs and indirectly created 364,000 full-time jobs.

We, as a people and as a community, have a responsibility to provide a solution that can sustain our state’s rural hospitals.

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