LISTEN: Sen. Shelly Echols explains to the House Public Health Committee what would be allowed under Senate Bill 109 after a few changes have been made to it during the 2023 legislative session.

The House Public Health committee passed Senate Bill 109 on Tuesday that requires the Department of Community Health to include glucose monitors as a pharmacy benefit for those with Medicaid.

This means that diabetics in Georgia will be allowed to go through their primary physicians to get monitoring equipment instead of being required to see an endocrinologist.

“We’re in such a shortage of endocrinologists in Georgia, so this opens up the channels and makes it more convenient for those patients but also a little quicker too so they don’t have to stay on those waiting lines,” sponsor of the bill, Republican Sen. Shelly Echols of District 49 said to the committee.

Though some changes have been made to the bill as its been presented in both chambers in the session, the bill continues to make the process of diabetics getting their medical essentials easier. 

Echols shared to the committee that some of the language in the bill has been changed due to the work she has done with the Department of Community Health and the governor’s office in making sure “the department flexibility in establishing the most cost effective delivery channel for continuous glucose monitors.”

She also said, “What remains unchanged is the language of the bill to update the coverage criteria and it really creates better health outcomes for our diabetic Georgians on Medicaid.”

The most significant update to the bill is the addition of a bill that would prioritize how patients, especially those with cancer, are able to get their medications in a timely manner.

Republican Chairman Rep. Sharon Cooper, representing the 45th District in Marietta, spoke on this new section of the bill given her knowledge of it. She first explained to the committee the current process of how patients diagnosed with cancer are able to receive their medications.

“The usual routine is they will see their doctor each month or every two weeks and the doctor at that time will do blood work before they allow the patients to have an infusion,” Cooper said before the committee. “If their bloodwork comes that its within enough of the normal limits that they can tolerate the medicine for the cancer, they will then send them to an infusion center and at that time their medicines will be mixed up by a pharmacist and administered very specifically to that patient at that time.

“Some of our insurance companies now also own pharmacy chains and they decided that they wanted to mix up or do these medicines for our cancer patients,” she said. “We’re not talking about local pharmacies; we’re talking about pharmacies wherever and they would mix up the medicine get it to the patient.”

The problem with the current process is when pharmacies are delivering medicine to the patient, there is a high chance it might be through the mail given the distance.

“What happens if the patient has an appointment for June 1 and the medicine arrives on June 2,” Cooper said. “Cancer patients are very regulated about how many days between each cancer treatment and a lot of times its very hard for them to vary that and have their insurance pay for it.”

The objective for adding this section to SB 109 is that patients will get their medicine delivered in a efficient fashion where “the medicine is the safest, has been at the right temperature, for the right patient and its the right medicine” per Cooper.

Cooper told the committee that this bill was very important to Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger, representing District 23 in Cherokee County, who is in remission from cancer.

Ballinger made a quick comment to the committee about her appreciation for the bill as it relates to her personal experience and that of other cancer patients.

“It really is for me, my personal health has reached out to me, and several friends in the cancer community reached out to me about the potential dangers to cancer patients and that’s how I became so involved in this bill,” she said. "I really appreciate the chair lady and senator’s indulgence and perseverance in this matter.”

The bill must pass the House vote and have a final Senate approval before it can be signed into Georgia law.