By Kathryn E. Dennis*
July 20, 2009
The Georgia General Assembly adjourned the 2009 Legislative Session on April 3, 2009, after considering more than 2900 bills and resolutions in the House and Senate. A reflection of national economic woes, budget issues took center stage throughout the 2009 Session. Although the Amended Fiscal Year 2009 Budget continued to delay the $40 million Medicaid increase appropriated in the 2009 Budget, the Assembly passed a Supplemental Budget, which included more than $13.7 million in funding for private hospitals in the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program.
Once again, much attention was given to Georgia's overburdened and underfunded trauma care network. Except for the passage of HB 160, part of Governor Sonny Perdue's (D) "SuperSpeeder" legislation, the Assembly did not address a sustainable funding mechanism for the state's trauma care network. The SuperSpeeder legislation increases certain speeding fees, as well as fees paid for reinstatement or restoration of suspended or revoked drivers' licenses, creating a projected $23 million for trauma care funding in the 2010 Budget. The portion of HB 160 that affects trauma care funding will take effect January 1, 2010.
Fourteen bills relating to trauma care were introduced during the 2009 Session. However, most trauma care bills were delayed by unrelated political debates and never reached full House and Senate votes. Many of the delayed bills have been recommended as carry-over legislation for the 2010 Legislative Session. Various funding for trauma care is found in HB 183, which would impose fees on all telephone and wireless subscribers and on sales of disposable wireless telecommunications devices. Additionally, HB 192 proposes using proceeds from the state ad valorem tax to fund the Georgia Trauma Trust Fund, while HB 480 seeks to create certain motor vehicle taxes and registration fees as a means of funding a statewide trauma network.
Reorganization of DHR
The Assembly also agreed to reorganize the Department of Human Resources (DHR) through passage of HB 228. Effective July 1, 2009, DHR was abolished and its remaining duties and functions were transferred to a newly established Department of Human Services. The Division of Public Health and the Office of Regulatory Services were both transferred to the Department of Community Health (DCH). Additionally, the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Addictive Diseases was transferred to a newly created Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
In addition to addressing trauma care and reorganizing DHR, the Assembly also authorized DCH to obtain income eligibility verification from the Department of Revenue for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids Program applicants, effective January 2010, as part of SB 165. The Assembly also passed SB 94, which continues certain health insurance benefits for small businesses and recently uninsured persons for up to nine months and allows Georgia to benefit from additional federal COBRA funds available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. SB 94 took effect May 5, 2009.
The Assembly also passed HB 509, a measure that authorizes advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to make a pronouncement of death if delegated by the nurse's supervising physician and to certify such pronouncement in the same manner as a physician. The law took effect July 1, 2009, and applies to all APRNs, including those practicing in nursing homes and hospitals.
Hospital Tax and Other Carry-Over Legislation
After much debate, HB 307, the proposed per-year hospital tax bill, which the Georgia Hospital Association states would cost hospitals an estimated $259 million, remains in the Special Projects Subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee. The proposed tax would assess 1.6% of "net patient revenue," defined as "the total gross patient revenue of a hospital less contractual adjustments; charity care; bad debt; Hill-Burton commitments; and indigent care as defined and calculated in accordance with department guidelines."
As introduced, HB 307 requires that the tax be paid quarterly by each hospital based on the most recent and complete annual financial report. Failure to pay the tax within the time required would result in an additional 6% penalty for each month or fraction thereof that the payment is overdue. HB 307, like many measures that passed committee but were not addressed on the House or Senate floor prior to adjournment, has been recommended as carry-over legislation for the 2010 Session.
Additional measures on the agenda for the 2010 Session address authorized consent on behalf of incapacitated persons, emergency care for prison inmates, elder care, genetic disorders, prescription drugs, nursing education programs, and health insurance.
*AHLA wishes to thank Kathryn E. Dennis, Esquire (Balch & Bingham LLP, Atlanta, GA) for providing this email alert.
For summaries of other state healthcare initiatives, please visit the Healthcare Reform Educational Task Force's website and click on Email Alerts in the left-hand navigation menu.
The Healthcare Reform Educational Task Force is a joint endeavor of the Healthcare Liability and Litigation; Hospitals and Health Systems; In-House Counsel; Payors, Plans, and Managed Care; Physician Organizations; Regulation, Accreditation, and Payment; and Teaching Hospitals and Academic Medical Centers Practice Groups.