2019 Legislative Summary

– Andy Toledo, MD, Legislative Committee Chair

The best way I know to describe the 2019 General Assembly is “roller coaster.”  The OBGyn Society was successful once again in obtaining approval for several budgetary items.  However, as has been widely reported in local and national news, the “Heartbeat bill” gained final passage by the General Assembly, a bill the OBGyn Society strongly opposed.

Budgetary Success

The OBGyn Society successfully advocated for several specific budget items that were not included in the Governor’s budget recommendation.

  • Full state funding for every existing OBGyn resident position in Georgia – a total of 54 slots at a cost of $828,042. The OBGyn Society has been previously successful in obtaining funding for some of the slots, but this year we asked the General Assembly to fund all of them – and they agreed with our request.
  • $200,000 for nurse abstractors for the Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee to improve capacity for review of maternal death records.
  • $1,047,540 for a maternal telepsychiatry program. This program was championed by Healthy Mother’s Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia and supported by GOGS, Emory University, March of Dimes, and the Department of Public Health.

Thank you to Skin Edge from Georgialink Public Affairs for his assistance with obtaining support for these critically-needed funding items to advance the quality of women’s healthcare.

Other Budgetary Items to note:

  • $500,000 for Morehouse School of Medicine to establish a Maternal Mortality Prevention Research Center of Excellence.
  • $500,000 for funds to county health departments for feminine hygiene products for low-income clients.

The Fetal Heartbeat Bill – HB 481

As I mentioned earlier, House Bill 481, sponsored by Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), known as the “Fetal Heart Bill” or the “Heartbeat bill” passed the General Assembly this session with Governor Kemp’s support.  Georgia is the 5th state to pass such a bill after North Dakota, Kentucky, Iowa, and Mississippi have done so earlier this year.  So far, no court has agreed that these bills are constitutional, and the US Supreme Court has yet to hear a case.   The bill prohibits abortions after detection of fetal heart tones.  Supporters of the bill say this can be as early as 6 weeks gestation.  The bill includes several exceptions: if the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman (emotional or mental conditions that serve as a threat to the woman’s health are not considered exceptions), if the physician determines the pregnancy is “medically futile,” or if the woman was a victim of rape or incest and files a police report alleging her claim.

The OBGyn Society took an early position in opposition to the bill due to increased opportunities for physician criminalization, the scientific inaccuracies that support the goal of the bill and the overall infringement on a physician’s ability to practice the full scope of medicine under the law.  The Society testified in opposition to the bill in the House and Senate committee hearings, and lobbied against the bill.  I’d like to thank the other physician associations who opposed the legislation: Medical Association of Georgia, Georgia Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics Georgia Chapter.  In addition, I would like to thank our members who reached out to their Representatives and/or Senators to register your concerns with the bill.  You are the women’s healthcare experts and your input on matters concerning women’s health policy is vitally important to our profession.

For OBGyn physicians in Georgia, there is no impact of this bill in the near term.  Without a court challenge, the bill does not go into effect until January 1, 2020.  However, a lawsuit will be filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which will very likely delay the bill becoming law – or potentially stop it from ever becoming law.  As of the writing of this article, Governor Kemp has not signed HB 481.

Other bills approved by the General Assembly:

HB 345 by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) to prohibit shackling of pregnant inmates.  GOGS supported this legislation.

HR 589 by Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta) to establish the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality.  GOGS supported this legislation through committee testimony and worked with Representative Newton to require two representatives from the Maternal Mortality Review Committee serve as members of this study committee.

HB 321 by Representative Jodi Lott (R-Evans) to reauthorize the Hospital Provider Payment Agreement.  This legislation extends the sunset for a funding mechanism that funds the Georgia Medicaid program until June 30, 2025.  Without this mechanism in place, the Georgia Medicaid budget would likely face steep cuts in reimbursements to hospitals and healthcare providers.

HB 187 by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) creates a pilot program within the State Health Benefit Plan (state employees and teachers) to treat and manage obesity.

HB 324 by Representative Micah Gravely (R-Douglasville) to allow for the production, manufacturing and dispensing of low THC oil.

SB 106 by Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) to authorize Governor Kemp and the Department of Community Health to apply for Medicaid waivers to extend Medicaid coverage to individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty limit.

SB 115 by Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to create a Georgia physician license category for physicians in other states to utilize telemedicine for patients in Georgia.

Other legislation: 

SB 267 by Senator Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) proposes to license “Certified Community Midwives” in the care of women in prenatal care and delivery of the baby, which would could occur in an out of hospital setting.  GOGS is in opposition to this legislation, which cannot be considered until the 2020 legislative session.

SB 279 by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) would prohibit pelvic examinations on an anesthetized patient without the patients informed consent.  GOGS is monitoring this legislation.

HB 717 by Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin) would establish licensure for “Certified Professional Midwives.”  This legislation is very similar to SB 267 and GOGS opposes it as well.

It was certainly a trying session, but we are fortunate to continue being successful in advocating for state support for women’s health.  We have a lot more work that needs to be done between now and 2020.  Please continue to build relationships with your elected officials and always support GynPAC when you renew your membership each year.

We had a solid turn out for legislative day in February with over 40 OBGyn physicians and residents despite it being scheduled during CREOG.  Please plan to join us next year at the Capitol on March 5th, 2020!