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Which health bills will become law?
State considering proposals on issues from distracted driving to surprise medical costs
Georgia state seal W

The dust has settled on a major legislative deadline. Yet much uncertainty surrounds the many health care bills that still have a shot at passage in the Georgia General Assembly this year.

Which proposals end up passing both Houses, or falling by the wayside, will be revealed as the state's legislative version of March Madness plays out.

Last Wednesday was Crossover Day. That's the deadline for a bill to be passed by at least one chamber of the General Assembly to have a chance of final passage during the session. Though bills are occasionally revived after the deadline by having their language attached to other legislation, the vast majority that fail to make the cut at Crossover are dead, at least until another session rolls around.

Several health bills made it just under the wire. Others, involving the state health care regulatory licensing program, and a "modified risk" tobacco product, didn't make it.

No major proposal to expand health insurance for Georgians who are currently uninsured has received any traction this session.

Among the bills successfully crossing over was Rep. John Carson's distracted-driving proposal.

HB 673 would prohibit drivers from holding a wireless telecommunication device or a standalone electronic device while operating a vehicle.

"I'm proud that my House colleagues overwhelmingly approved of the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which will surely decrease automobile accidents, prevent loss and save lives," said Carson, a Marietta Republican. Carson linked distracted driving to high numbers of traffic fatalities in the state - plus higher car insurance premiums.

It would make Georgia the 16th state to make it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving.

The House also expanded Georgia's medical marijuana program to include patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or from chronic pain.

It did not address the issue of in-state cultivation of medical cannabis. Many patients permitted to have low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia have noted that it's difficult for them to get the product, because it cannot be produced in the state, the Associated Press reported. And interstate transport of cannabis products is restricted by federal law.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse in Georgia would have more time to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers under a bill that unanimously passed the House on Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Jason Spencer of Woodbine, who sponsored the measure, said science has shown that it can take decades for childhood victims to be able to confront their abusers, The Associated Press reported.

Currently, the state's Hidden Predator Act gives victims until the age of 23 to file a lawsuit. Spencer's proposal seeks to expand the civil statute of limitations by 15 years, giving victims the ability to sue for damages until they turn 38.

House Bill 519, introduced by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), limits step therapy, in which patients are required by insurers to "fail" on a series of treatments before they can obtain the medication prescribed by their physician.

The bill creates a basic framework for when it's medically appropriate to exempt patients from drug protocols and establishes a transparent process for health care providers to request exceptions.

"Physicians know which medicines will work for their patients, and they must be afforded the tools and transparency to ensure they can make the best health care decisions," Cooper said in a statement.

The House defeated a measure that would allow a "modified risk" tobacco product to have a tax that's half of what exists now for cigarettes sold in the state.

The FDA has yet to approve such a product to be sold in the United States - or to be marketed as less harmful than other tobacco products. Anti-smoking advocates opposed the measure, which was backed by the tobacco industry.

The Legislature is also again tackling surprise medical bills, which can involve hundreds and even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket patient costs.

This billing occurs when people have procedures or visit ERs at hospitals in their insurance network, then are hit with separate, unexpected charges from non-network doctors who were involved in their care.

Senate Bill 359 is similar to but broader than a proposal that passed the House. The Senate version has provisions on payment for non-network medical services that the insurance industry opposes.

And the Senate passed legislation that would allow a physician to supervise eight advanced practice RNs at one time, up from a current limit of four. The bill would also allow a doctor to delegate the ordering of radiographic images. The proposal that passed did not contain the original provisions to allow the nurses to practice more independently in rural areas.

The final day of the 2018 session is March 29. That day is usually filled with a flurry of last-minute compromises and deals.

We may see many of these health care bills caught up in the frenzy of the final hours.



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