When the legislative term ended in 2021, Georgian lawmakers did not pass any law to allow patients in hospitals and nursing homes to be visited by a “legal guardian” during a health emergency.
The legislation ping-pong Wednesday between the two houses, with the House backing its previous, stronger version and the Senate sticking to its own stripped-down revision.
The legislation in its original form would have required hospitals and long-term care facilities to allow a legal guardian, usually a family member, to visit a patient or resident for at least an hour a day during a particular health emergency, such as the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) said the original bill “gives patients the opportunity to be seen by a legal guardian who will stand up for them.”
Thousands of patients “suffered alone” during the COVID pandemic, he said. The opponents addressed what Setzler called “hypotheses”, which he compared to “hand grenades”.
Georgia House spokesman David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) strongly supported the Visitation Act, referring to his own experience in attempting to keep family members of the patients inaccessible to their loved ones.
However, a Senate committee gutted the move after a number of hospital groups spoke against the bill, arguing that allowing such visits could endanger the safety of patients and staff during an outbreak.
And as the hours dwindled towards Sine Die (the traditional Latin name for the end of the session) on Wednesday, the chances of compromise with them dwindled.
The 2021 legislature didn’t have the heavy health agenda of 2019 that spawned Governor Brian Kemp’s waiver initiatives for private insurance and Medicaid. significant regulatory changes to the certificate of need; Hospital transparency requirements; and HIV prevention measures.
Even so, there were notable bills that aroused great interest. For example, in the first few days of the session, laws creating an automatic “express lane” for Medicaid eligibility for children receiving grocery stamps sailed through the General Assembly. Tens of thousands of uninsured children could be covered by legislation.
However, much of the drama over health legislation was saved by the last week of the session.
Nursing home camera bill falls flat
Another notable bill failed to clarify the General Assembly, even after a long, sharp debate resulted in a major change.
A bill to create logs for cameras in nursing home rooms was approved by the state Senate, but with an amendment that pleased some senior interest groups who opposed the original version.
The House did not agree to this amended version, so the initiative died.
House Bill 605 aimed to encourage the visible use of cameras in rooms by residents of long-term care facilities to prevent neglect or abuse. It was supported by the long-term care industry.
But the so-called “grandma-cam” move recently ran into trouble in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which stalled 6-6 in approving the bill before panel chairman Senator Ben Watson of Savannah pulled the tie broke.
The main point of contention revolved around hidden cameras versus those that would be visible and known to the facility and its staff.
AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Georgia Council on Aging rejected House Bill 605 because they said it prohibits the use of hidden camera footage in a civil or administrative proceeding where abuse or neglect occurs in nursing homes or other facilities.
Lobbying on both sides of the issue has been fierce for the past few days, and the Senate had a long debate early Wednesday evening.
Proponents argued that open, visible cameras would prevent abuse and neglect.
The original bill, said Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), “chooses preventing bad things from happening to our most affectionate people, rather than trying to capture a ‘gotcha’ moment that can only be addressed afterwards.”
Under the proposal, the signage required for the use of open cameras in a nursing home room would be “a wonderful deterrent,” said Kennedy, in contrast to a policy of “cameras everywhere, everywhere for any reason,” where hidden devices are against a could violate the roommate’s privacy.
But Senator Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, backed a change that would allow hidden camaraderie to be used in civil and administrative matters as well.
Atlanta Democratic Senator Jen Jordan, who backed the amendment, said the original bill “takes away rights and protections” now held by long-term care residents.
“Institutions don’t want hidden cameras in the rooms,” she said, “because they can be used against them.”
Kennedy said in the closing debate that the amendment “does the math really well”.
The amendment was adopted with 29-21 votes. Then the law was passed with 49-3 votes.
But with the House not accepting the revisions, the camera bill died – which was practically a victory for its opponents.
Sometimes they change. . . somehow
In an earlier action on Wednesday, the General Assembly fixed a time difference between the two chambers – between daylight saving time and standard time.
The Senate approved a House proposal to put the state on daylight saving time all year round. Sen. Watson (R-Savannah), a doctor, had argued in his original bill for year-round standard time.
Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) sponsored the daylight saving time version of the bill. Both he and Watson described a number of studies describing sleep disorders and more serious health problems that are increasing in frequency after the current biannual time shifts, particularly after the annual “spring forward” shift from standard time to daylight time, Capitol Beat reported News service.
But Georgia will continue to switch back and forth under the law, which was finally passed on Wednesday, unless the U.S. Congress takes action. This is because current federal law does not allow a state to enact permanent daylight saving time.
The Georgia Senate passed House of Representatives legislation requiring insurers to pay network price providers if the providers were listed as listed on the company’s network during the consumer’s open registration period but their contract later ended.
Payment would take six months after the end of the contract. The measure would not apply to the insurance coverage offered by large, self-insured employers who are shielded from state insurance laws.
The House approved a resolution to set up a joint committee to study the effects of lead exposure on children in Georgia. (Here is a recently published GHN article on the lead problem in Georgia.)