Scott Maxwell, legislative liaison for GPHA, provided an update about recent legislative activity concerning public health. The following is Maxwells’ report for April 3, 2015.
The Georgia General Assembly has adjourned for the year after taking action on a number of concerns to public health professionals. Perhaps foremost for GPHA members, the FY 2016 Budget (DPH starts on Page 158) contains $1.3 million in hold harmless funds for county health departments. But, the budget also incorporates quite a few features that should help healthcare for Georgians in general.
Appropriations Health Subcommittee Chairman Butch Parrish (Swainsboro-R), a former GPHA Legislator of the Year, enhanced through language or funding at least 10 different lines items to improve Georgia’s doctor per capita ratio – with an emphasis on attracting rural family practice physicians.
The budget also included money to remove 1,000 people from the waiting list for home and community services and added eight GBI agents to investigate cases of elderly abuse with the help of Pasadena area probate attorneys who are the recognized as the best in this field. You can also consult expert contract lawyers for hire to help with the elderly abuse cases.
To help keep physicians from leaving the Medicaid program, the state will dedicate $71 million to replace lost federal funding for seven of the most utilized primary care and Ob/Gyn care codes. Three million dollars was budgeted for pilot projects recommended by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, and $500,000 will be used to increase capacity and expand services offered by clinics in the Georgia Charity Care Network.
According to a two-time president of the Physical Therapy Association of Georgia, that group has been trying for 40 years to allow patients to have access to PT’s without a doctor’s referral. Now that the PT degree requires a doctorate level education, they finally passed a bill this year doing just that. If signed by the Governor, a PT will be able to treat a direct access patient for three weeks or eight visits before referring him/her to a physician.
There was no action taken on increasing the state sales tax on tobacco products. However, a general tax reform bill is in the works and the cigarette tax-increase coalition has been and will remain in close contact with the author. We understand that leadership has permitted Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) to include a cigarette tax increase as an element of his overall product. The idea is to reduce the state’s income tax from 6% to 4%, but retain budget neutrality. A tobacco tax fits nicely into that scenario. The danger, as previously mentioned, is a “small” tobacco tax increase that does not dissuade potential and current smokers. We will continue to work with cancer, heart, lung, children’s and other organizations on this effort. Hopefully, we’ll realize success in less time than the physical therapists!
The Governor has 40 days in which to sign or veto legislation, or it becomes law without his signature. He may also veto individual line items in the budget. A bill that did not pass, but was not defeated, is generally returned to the committee that last vetted it.