A proposal to give “legal representatives” better access to patients in the event of health emergencies was approved by Georgia House Monday after several lawmakers, including House Speaker David Ralston, gave emotional testimony.
The passage of House Bill 290 through the Chamber came along with a number of other measures during crossover day. This is the deadline by which a draft law can be passed by at least one chamber of the legislature or can no longer be anchored in law this year. (Occasionally, such a dead bill is resuscitated by appending its provisions to another bill that has already passed a chamber.)
With the electoral bills taking up a lot of political scope at this year’s General Assembly session, healthcare was not as much of a focus as in previous sessions.
However, there have been some notable bills that have passed a chamber, as well as significant budget increases for public health and mental health services.
Under House Bill 290, passed by 113-57 votes, hospitals and long-term care facilities would have to allow a “legal representative” of a patient or resident to visit the person for at least one hour a day. This official-sounding term refers in most cases to a patient’s family member, e.g. B. the next of kin. Under the bill, the institutions would set the rules and conditions for visits.
Georgia’s long-term care ombudsmen had urged the state to relax COVID-inspired restrictions on visits as residents of the facility suffered isolation and loneliness.
Republican Ed Setzler, a Republican from Acworth and the main sponsor of the bill, spoke during the deliberations about his 82-year-old father-in-law who was hospitalized in Gwinnett County after a serious heart event and was not allowed to visit his daughter. She was always turned away, said Setzler.
MP Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee), who also spoke for the bill, spoke about her own medical experience and the importance of her family’s presence.
The hospital industry opposed the legislation, citing concerns about the spread of infections.
MEP Debra Bazemore, a Democrat from Riverdale, called the legislation “a feel-good bill that tears your heart apart.” She said health professionals, not lawmakers, should be trusted to establish visiting rules. “I choose to trust the scientists and medical professionals,” said Bazemore. “There is no need to codify this process.”
Rep. Erick Allen (D-Smyrna), another opponent of House Bill 290, said no doctor wants to prevent a patient from seeing a loved one, but safety is a primary concern.
Proponents of the bill recognized the importance of family members to a patient or resident.
Rep. Patty Bentley, a Butler Democrat, spoke about possible restrictions on visiting her husband, diagnosed with COVID-19, when entering a long-term care facility. And Rep. Jesse Petrea, a Republican from Savannah, said if aides and housekeepers can come into a patient’s room regularly, “why can’t that one legal guardian come in for an hour a day?”
Speaker Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) spoke about his personal experience with visiting restrictions. He talked about how a young husband whose wife was dying turned to him for help to see her. “I couldn’t do it,” recalled Ralston, one of the most powerful people in the state. “He said goodbye on FaceTime. ”
A friend said goodbye to his mother through a window, added Ralston. Another woman had trouble explaining to her mother why she couldn’t visit her, he said
The bill is now going to the State Senate. The legislative period is expected to end on March 31st.
A law was also passed on Monday creating a committee to make recommendations to the Ministry of Health for adding new disorders to Georgia’s newborn screening practices. Newborns are regularly screened for a standard group of diseases and disorders so that they can receive the services or care they need as soon as possible after birth.
The House also passed laws that would remove a loophole for those first time indicted with distracted driving. Georgia law currently allows individuals who are first tried for violating the Hands Free Act to appear in court with a device or proof of purchase for a device that prevents them from driving distracted. State law currently requires the court to exempt the person from this first offense if there is evidence of this purchase. House Bill 247 repeals this waiver of the first offense.
A proposal that would also open up the house would require hospitals to take part in a survey as to whether their electronic health record system restricts access to patient data with the systems of other institutions. A patient who cannot seamlessly transfer this data from one provider to another could run into a roadblock in medical care, said doctor Mark Newton (R-Augusta). “We shouldn’t burden the patient when he is sick.”
And the Senate passed a stripped-down bill clarifying that the state public health officer has the power to appoint a district health director.
The original version of Senate Bill 256 would have taken the authority of the district health authorities and turned them over to the Department of Health. It would also have relaxed the qualifications required for a district health director, allowed the public health officer to redraw district maps, and, overall, concentrated more power in the chairman’s office.
Medicaid, Daylight Saving Time and the ACA
Among the health bills that have already been passed through a chamber was legislation that provided an automatic “express lane” for Medicaid eligibility for children who receive food stamps.
Tens of thousands of uninsured children could be covered if House Bill 163 gets final approval.
Other states, including Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana, have already taken the freeway – and increased coverage for uninsured children, said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee.
“This is especially important for people in rural areas as they often lack broadband or cellular phone services or transportation to a DFCS office,” said Cooper. “We are delaying children from getting medical care when they are eligible,” she told her committee.
The Senate had previously passed laws that would bring Georgia to standard time all year round. It would stop the current system of switching back and forth between standard time and daylight saving time. Health experts say these switches disrupt sleep patterns. The impairment of sleep after time changes in March and November is affecting Georgians’ health and causing mood swings, said Senator Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and doctor who was the main sponsor of the bill.
“There is a significantly higher percentage of heart attacks during the spring time,” said Watson.
The wording of Watson’s bill has been tailored to the current federal law. Currently, this law allows individual states to set year-round standard time but not year-round daylight saving time, the Capitol Beat News Service reported. While Watson’s bill would put Georgia on standard time year round, it also urges the state to switch to daylight saving time if Congress votes in favor. (In the meantime, Georgia’s annual summer time changeover is due this weekend.)
But the House passed a law on Friday urging Georgia to respect daylight saving time all year round. Both chambers agree that the state should stop switching from standard time to daylight every March and switch back to standard every November.
Patient referral is a drug treatment center or similar facility where a third party is paid to refer a patient to their company. The practice can result in much higher fees for the patient. Senate Bill 4, which passed this chamber unanimously, would prohibit mediation and impose penalties for it.
And the House approved a measure requiring health insurers to offer a comprehensive insurance policy at a reasonable price that covers pre-existing conditions in the event that Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 or a court deletes or changes significantly Act. The ACA forbids insurers in their longstanding practice of charging higher premiums to people with such conditions. While the ACA has withstood various overturn attempts and legal challenges, there is currently a challenge in the US Supreme Court and there is concern about the potential disruption that an unfavorable decision would cause.
And earlier, the House passed the “Gracie Law,” which would make the state the newest state to outlaw organ transplantation against people with physical and mental disabilities. The measure is named after a young Georgian woman with Down syndrome named Gracie, whose parents picked up the problem after learning that she may have needed a heart transplant.
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Health News.