Georgia OBGyn Society 2021 Legislative Update

With Georgia reeling from both a New Year’s surge in COVID cases and an unprecedented “blue wave” washing over our state, this year’s legislative session was certainly one for the ages.  Despite these extraordinary circumstances, our Georgia Ob/Gyn Society (GOGS) Legislative Committee remained aptly focused on advocating for our patients and for our physicians.  With the help of our lobbyists, executive director, and longstanding partners, we navigated the new political environment and pandemic protocols with relative ease.  Despite not being physically present under the Gold Dome, we found other ways to make our presence (and position) known on several important issues.  The legislative session concluded on April 2nd, and I am proud to report on several successes!

One of the annual highlights for both GOGS and the Georgia General Assembly is the Patient-Centered Physicians Coalition (PC2) of Georgia “Legislative Day at the Capitol.”  In 2020, nearly 300 physicians met at the Georgia Train Depot for this tradition, which ultimately became one of the final in-person advocacy events before the coronavirus quarantine began.  Our maskless attendees walked en masse to the Gold Dome, elbowed other advocates out of the way at the ropes, finagled a less-than-six-foot space to meet with legislators face-to-face, and then shook hands without using alcohol-based sanitizer.  Oh, how things have changed!

This year, like much of the world, we pivoted to a virtual format and hosted the first-ever PC2 Legislative Webinar Series.  Our first event featured Brian Robinson of Robinson Republic, a consulting firm specializing in public affairs messaging.  He provided our brimming Zoom room insight on “How to Lobby in a Virtual World.”  We then employed those newly acquired virtual advocacy skills at our two remaining webinars featuring Georgia General Assembly Members from the House of Representatives (Sharon Cooper and Butch Parrish) and Senate (Michelle Au, Dean Burke, and Bo Hatchett).  We asked the Representatives and Senators to update us on health and healthcare legislative efforts under the Gold Dome, and we also clued them in on our crucial positions and top priorities.  In case you missed these informative webinars, recordings are available on the GOGS website at www.gaobgyn.org/resources/webinars.  

Due in part to these virtual lobbying events, and certainly to the unwavering efforts of our GOGS lobbyists Skin Edge and John Walraven, our Legislative Committee successfully influenced several bills during the 2021 session.  A summary of all legislation tracked by our team is provided below, courtesy of our tireless GOGS Executive Director, Kate Boyenga.  Thank you, Skin, John, and Kate for all your hard work on behalf of GOGS!  Also, sincere thanks to our membership for sticking with us during these challenging times.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with suggestions for legislative priorities, advocacy strategies, or anything at all.  We remain impressed and inspired by your ongoing engagement in our efforts to improve the health and healthcare of the women of Georgia.  Our team is proud to serve you!

Medicaid Reimbursement

To help support the state’s primary care and maternal health practices amidst the ongoing financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked the legislature for an increase in Medicaid rates for 18 of the most commonly used CPT codes to 2020 Medicare levels.  We are pleased to report the $7.1M needed to fund this measure to help ob/gyns across Georgia keep their doors open (especially those in rural areas, where the payor mix is dominated by Medicaid) was included in the State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget.  ACHIEVED

Tort Reform

We remain concerned about the high rate of claims experienced by ob/gyns, considering 5 of Georgia’s top 25 recent verdicts were for medical malpractice.  Both SB 189, which would have required trial bifurcation, as well as SB 190, which would have eliminated phantom damages in med-mal trials, failed to pass. Both bills introduced by Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) were considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  We continue to support tort reform efforts that may control professional liability costs, make Georgia a more attractive place to practice medicine, and thereby address the shortage of rural obstetricians. DID NOT ACHIEVE

Telehealth
HB 307 revises the Georgia Telehealth Act to allow physicians to provide telemedicine services from their home and authorizes patients to receive telemedicine services from their home.  Telehealth has quickly become integrated into nearly every aspect of obstetrics and gynecology, and current trends indicate expansion of its use.  This bill constructs much needed abilities for technology-enhanced health care.  ACHIEVED

Sexual Misconduct
HB 458 introduced by Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) updates educational requirements surrounding sexual misconduct for physicians and requires the mandatory reporting by health care providers who have ‘actual knowledge’ that a physician has committed a sexual assault on a patient.  The Georgia OBGyn Society worked diligently to define the reporting terms and educational standards that best serve our membership. ACHIEVED

Maternal mortality record retrieval regulation

Georgia’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s abstraction team has had difficulty obtaining timely access to critical documents from healthcare facilities, coroner’s offices, police departments, and other authorities.  We worked with Rep. Sharon Cooper (R), Chair of Health and Human Services, to create a mandatory 30-day compliance reporting deadline. This recommended legislation was amended to HB 567 which provides for a Newborn Screening and Genetics Advisory Committee. GOGS continues to monitor the record request and retrieval process and has implemented new collection methods to accelerate the collection process and improve the efficiency and depth of the maternal review process. ACHIEVED

Rural Birthing Centers

SB 270 would have created a pilot program to fund rural birthing centers associated with emergency departments.  The bill introduced by Gail Davenport (D- Jonesboro) did not make it out of the Senate prior to crossover day but we remain optimistic that similar legislation may be revisited next year. DID NOT ACHIEVE

Prevention of Postpartum Maternal Mortality and Morbidity 

Last year the passage of HB 1114 extended comprehensive Medicaid coverage for low-income Georgia mothers to six months postpartum and provided for much needed lactation services.  While we were pleased with this progress, a one-year extension is certainly our ultimate goal – to facilitate ongoing monitoring, diagnosis, and management of potentially fatal postpartum issues like mental illness, addiction crisis, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. On April 12, 2021 Illinois became the first state to win approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for its 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage for pregnant individuals to 12 months postpartum. Illinois can now move ahead to implement this coverage extension with federal financial assistance.  This indicates CMS financial support and now clearly gives states like Georgia two viable pathways – an 1115 waiver or the SPA made available through the American Rescue Plan Act.  TO BE CONTINUED…