Disastrous. Unaffordable. “An abomination.”
These descriptions were part of the anti-Obamacare sentiments heard during a legislative hearing Monday at the Georgia General Assembly. The rhetoric echoed what was heard at town hall meetings in 2010 after Obamacare — officially known as the Affordable Care Act — was passed by Congress.
Tea Party and other activists opposed to the federal health law packed a small hearing room to listen to the arguments in favor of House Bill 707, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine). The bill would prevent state institutions and employees from implementing ACA provisions.
That would include the University of Georgia, where a unit of the school is providing navigators to help counsel consumers looking for coverage in the ACA-mandated health insurance exchange.
House Bill 707 also would bar Georgia from setting up its own health insurance exchange. The current exchange in Georgia, as in numerous other states, is run by the federal government.
The House Judiciary subcommittee did not hold a vote on the proposal.
Also Monday, the state Senate passed bills that would create a new agency for aging services, as well as establish a database on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related types of dementia in Georgia.
A House health panel, meanwhile, discussed a proposed revision to the state regulatory apparatus known as certificate of need (CON). Though little known to the public, the CON system plays a big role in whether health care facilities are built in Georgia.
The biggest political fireworks of the day involved the ACA, and the bill sponsored by Spencer, who told the panel that the health law is raising costs for Georgians, not lowering them.
Lines clearly drawn
Spencer, a physician assistant, said federal action under the ACA is “repugnant’’ to the U.S. Constitution, in that the federal government cannot force states and local governments to act against their interests.
He said his bill would provide a template to exempt the State Health Benefit Plan from ACA requirements for new types of coverage that lawmakers said amounted to $300 million. “The federal government cannot tax the states,’’ Spencer said.
Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) added that a large number of individuals have suffered due to Obamacare. He cited 400,000 Georgians who lost their individual insurance policies because that coverage didn’t meet ACA requirements.
Policy cancellations became a national issue in the fall, and President Obama apologized to policyholders who were caught by surprise. But defenders of the ACA say that in most cases such people will find good alternative coverage under its provisions.
“We don’t want a dime of state resources to go to implement this law,’’ Kelley said of the ACA.
Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) challenged the sweeping condemnation of the ACA. He asked the House Bill 107’s sponsors whether they were going to allow people to benefit from the health law.
“We have an obligation to every citizen of the state,’’ Bruce said. “A lot of people are absolutely benefiting from it.’’
Testifying from the audience was Carolyn Cosby of Georgians for Healthcare Freedom, who helped lead a petition drive opposing the ACA that collected more than 37,000 signatures. The signatures, she said, represent “a tremendous response from the people.”
The law is “unworkable, unaffordable and unconstitutional,’’ Cosby said.
Jack Smith of Gilmer County, who wore a Tea Party shirt, said the bill is to “tell the federal government that the state of Georgia is still a sovereign state.’’
After the hearing, Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future, which supports the ACA, told GHN that while the petitioners garnered 37,000 signatures in six months, more than 58,000 Georgians enrolled in exchange coverage in half that time, with “tens of thousands more to come.”
Zeldin said the House bill could tie the hands of state agencies in harmful ways on such matters as the Department of Community Health paying primary care doctors more for Medicaid, a provision of the ACA.
A ‘silver tsunami’ and a CON bill
Earlier Monday, the Senate passed legislation to help the state better prepare for the challenges of an aging population.
Senate Bill 291 would create a Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency and its governing board. Aging Services are now lumped with other services under the Department of Human Services.
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), sponsor of the legislation, noted that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day — “a staggering number.’’
“Reorganizing this will get the department ready for this silver tsunami,’’ said Unterman.
The bill passed by a 45-5 vote. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) called the measure “a huge step forward for Georgia.’’
The legislation to create an Alzheimer’s and dementia registry passed on a 45-6 vote.
Unterman said on the Senate floor that the state has estimates of more than 100,000 people with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. “We’re not exactly sure how many people have it,’’ she said.
Later, the House Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on a bill that would exempt private mental health facilities from the certificate-of-need process.
Rep. David Stover (R-Newnan) said that House Bill 853, which he sponsors, would increase access to treatment for people with mental illness.
In late December, Community Health denied a CON, or license, for a behavioral health facility in Newnan.
That area does not have sufficient availability of such services, Stover told the panel.
The Georgia Hospital Association (GHA), the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, and the Northeast Georgia Health System each testified against the bill. GHA noted that the Newnan situation has not been resolved, with an appeal pending by the organization seeking to build the hospital.
Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), the chairwoman of the panel, said that while she has problems with the bill, she sees a need for state regulation of hospitals to be more flexible as health care undergoes rapid change.
“I think we’ll see more specialty hospitals,’’ Cooper said. Rural areas in danger of losing a hospital, she said, may need to have the ability to have a freestanding ER in their communities, something that has not been allowed under certificate of need.
CON changes “may need to be done to save our rural hospitals,” Cooper said.