Happy Monday to All!!.......Part II
General Assembly gets underway with "Eggs & Issues"
The 2016 Georgia General Assembly got underway with an "Eggs & Issues" event on January 11. Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) Government Relations Director Marcus Downs reports that Gov. Nathan Deal focused principally on education, noting that, "He didn't address health care issues in any detail."
Downs says that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said that Georgia needs to explore different health care delivery models, including its public health. While he did not provide specifics, Lt. Gov. Cagle said that he expects the Senate, in particular, to consider new health care models in 2016 – especially when it comes to rural areas.
And Downs reports that Speaker David Ralston pointed out that high deductibles are making it harder for state employees and others to access affordable care. Rep. Ralston also noted that physicians and hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of the rural population – as four hospitals have closed in rural Georgia in the past two years.
Physician/patient payment agreements bill in Senate
Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) introduced the 'Physician Direct Pay Act' (S.B. 265), which would allow physicians to have payment agreements with patients. The agreements would be exempt from state insurance laws as long as the "direct financial relationship" does not exceed $6,000.
Under this bill, physicians also would not be obligated to see a patient if they determine that they are unable to provide the patient with the appropriate level and type of care – and physicians would be able to discontinue a patient's treatment for cause.
MAG supports the bill, which is consistent with a policy that was established by its House of Delegates.
S.B. 265 is waiting to be assigned to a committee.
PA Schedule II prescribing bill unveiled in Senate
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) introduced S.B. 115, which would allow physician assistants (PAs) to prescribe Schedule II drugs. The bill would allow PAs to prescribe a 30-day supply of Hydrocodone Combination Products (HCPs). The PAs would be required to complete three hours of continuing education every two years.
The legislation is designed to free up physicians to focus on other areas of patient care and to ensure that patients receive their pain medication without any delays.
MAG is opposed to giving PAs full Schedule II prescriptive authority, but it does support giving them the authority to prescribe HCPs.
"We believe that this legislation is reasonable," says MAG Government Relations Director Marcus Downs. "MAG has been a strong advocate for the funding the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and we believe that the authority to prescribe controlled substances should be thoughtfully considered and limited to those with the highest degree of training and familiarity with the impact that these substances may have on patients who begin using them."
Downs also stresses that MAG will continue to oppose giving nurse practitioners the authority to prescribe Schedule II drugs unless and until they are placed under the auspices of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.
S.B. 115 is in the Senate HHS Committee.
Senate HHS to address "abusive" billing practices
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) has introduced S.R. 566, which would create a Senate study committee that would address "abusive" billing practices.
"MAG is taking a keen interest in this measure because the study could have implications for physician pay," explains MAG Government Relations Director Marcus Downs. "We are working with several state specialty societies to ensure that legislators understand the considerable challenges that physicians face when it comes to interacting with health insurers, including a lack of transparency and increasingly-narrow networks."
Downs stresses that, "MAG is opposing this measure because we believe that the real problems have been created by the health insurance companies."
He adds that, "The solution for 'abusive' billing practices is to compel insurers to give their customers – the patient – the full benefit they have paid for and deserve by increasing the numbers of physicians they have in their networks."
S.R. 566 is in the Senate HHS Committee.
In a related development, MAG has developed a 'Health Insurer Patient Billing Tactics' issue brief that addresses insurer contracts, narrowing networks, and the pending Aetna/Humana and Anthem/Cigna mergers. It also highlights the steps that MAG believes insurers in Georgia should take to eliminate the need for "balance billing." MAG is encouraging physicians and practice staff to use this brief in their advocacy efforts in 2016.
Bill would redefine professional counseling
Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) introduced H.B. 498, which would revise the definition of "professional counseling" by allowing licensed professional counselors to use the term "diagnose" for billing and reimbursement purposes.
"Licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed counselors would all like to be able to use the term," says MAG Government Relations Director Marcus Downs. "But MAG is opposing this legislation because we believe a diagnosis should be reserved for the medical professionals for the sake of patient welfare."
The bill did receive the unanimous support of a House Regulated Industries subcommittee, so it will now make its way to the full committee.
It is worth noting that Rep. Hawkins is a dentist.
Bill would allow tax-deductible savings for disabled
Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) introduced the 'ABLE Act' (H.B. 710), which would allow eligible individuals with disabilities to make contributions to tax-exempt accounts to pay for certain qualified expenses like living expenses and housing. The measure would also create a commission to oversee the program.
MAG supports the bill, which is consistent with a policy that MAG's House of Delegates established in 2015. H.B. 710 will receive a committee hearing as a next step.
House bill would okay medical marijuana growth
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced H.B. 722, which would allow marijuana to be grown in the state for medicinal purposes. The bill would also expand the list of patients who can use medical marijuana to include mitochondrial disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle cell disease, glaucoma, Tourette's syndrome, and other conditions. MAG is assessing the legislation, which is awaiting a committee assignment.
MAG's 2016 State Legislative Priorities
MAG's Board of Directors adopted the following state legislative priorities for 2016...
Preserving Physician Autonomy. MAG will promote legislation ensuring the practice of medicine is reserved for those who are qualified to provide care that is based on the standards of the Georgia Medical Practice Act. MAG will also continue to be an advocate for positioning physicians as the leader of the patient's health care team.
Medicaid. MAG will support reform that 1) ensures the adequacy of payment and 2) reduces administrative burdens and 3) reinforces the physician-patient relationship and 4) promotes quality medicine, including the adoption of the Patient-Centered Medical Home. MAG will call for the General Assembly to continue funding the Medicaid Parity Payment Program. It will call on lawmakers to continue to fund every area of primary care. And MAG will work with state legislators and regulators to develop funding options to address the Georgians who remain uninsured.
Tort Reform. MAG will work to preserve the existing elements of tort reform in the state.
Health Insurance & Increasing Access to Care. MAG will support reform that requires health insurers to be equitable and transparent when they enter into contracts with physicians and medical practices in the state.
Prescription Drugs. MAG will encourage the legislature to continue to fund the state's prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). MAG will also 1) call for physicians to have greater autonomy to delegate the PDMP data entry role to other practice staff and 2) promote better communications among the health care team members who work with patients in the context of the PDMP and 3) promote greater patient awareness and privacy in the context of the PDMP.
MAG encouraging members to attend 'Physician's Day at Capitol' on January 27
MAG is encouraging its members to attend this year's 'Physicians' Day at the Capitol' – which will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, January 27.
In addition to MAG, the event is being sponsored by the Georgia State Medical Association, Georgia Society of Ophthalmology, Georgia Radiological Society, Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists, Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology, Georgia Orthopaedic Society, and Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association.
Breakfast will be served beginning at 7:15 a.m., and the event will get underway with a briefing at 8 a.m. It will feature a photo opportunity with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal at about 9 a.m., and lunch will be provided once the legislature adjourns. This is an impressive act of MAG wooing our state politicians, don't you think?
MAG members can click here or contact Liz Bullock at firstname.lastname@example.org 678.303.9271 for details and to RSVP.
Make a difference as a MAG 'Doctor of Day' volunteer
MAG is encouraging physicians to serve as a MAG 'Doctor of the Day' volunteer during the 2016 legislative session, which is expected to conclude at end of March.
MAG 'Doctor of the Day' volunteers work in the Medical Aid Station at the state Capitol, where they provide free minor medical care to legislators and their staff members.
The MAG 'Doctor of the Day' is introduced in the House and Senate at the beginning of each legislative day.
Physicians who are interested in serving as a MAG 'Doctor of the Day' volunteer can click here to complete an application or they can contact Liz Bullock at email@example.com or 678.303.9271. I would love it if every UAPRN member would contact Ms. Bullock and request to volunteer as an APRN!!
Thanking this week's 'Doctor of the Day' volunteers
MAG thanks and applauds its 'Doctor of the Day' volunteers for the week of January 11, which includes...
G. Waldon Garriss, M.D.
Kelly M. DeGraffenreid, M.D.
John S. Harvey, M.D.
Stanley J. Shin, M.D.
James M. Tallman, M.D.
It is also worth noting that Dr. Harvey, who is MAG's president, was honored with a resolution from the Georgia Senate on January 11. Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) presented the resolution.