March 2015 Legislative Update

Much has happened at the Capitol since the legislative session began, including the introduction of new bills and updates on our pre-existing legislative agenda. Here are the most pressing updates as we head toward Crossover Day (Friday, March 13).

Oppose Legislation That Would Permit Abusive Debt Settlement Practices 
HB 387, introduced on February 19, would have removed the current fee cap on debt adjustment services, which is currently set at 7.5% of the amount paid to creditors.  Georgia Watch was at the Capitol testifying against this bill throughout the first month of the session, speaking with legislators about how damaging debt settlement is for consumers. This bill was heard by the Judiciary Subcommittee last week, but was never voted on and therefore, will not reach the full Committee or House for a vote before Crossover Day.  We are still watching the legislature to make sure similar language is not introduced through amendments to other bills, but are hopeful that current protections will remain in place to keep harmful debt settlement practices out of our state.  See our infographic on debt settlement.

Ensure SB 88 Fairly Discloses Payroll Card Fees and Alternatives to Employees
In February, a labor relations bill (SB 88) was introduced that would allow employers the right to put employee earned wages or salary on a payroll card instead of issuing a payroll check. Georgia Watch has asked sponsoring legislators to consider amending the bill to ensure that employees receive a disclosure statement regarding payroll card alternatives, including payroll checks and direct deposit into employee checking accounts. These recommendations would align with the recent push for transparency and accountability related to payroll cards as suggested by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Read more>

Guarantee that Insurance Companies Pay Claims to Consumers (HB 303)
House Bill 303 provides for increased recovery from the insurance company when the consumer (the insured) experiences damage by an uninsured motorist and the insurance company refuses to pay their claim covered under the law. This new bill would make sure that within 60 days after a written demand is made by the insured, the insurance company must pay the claim. Georgia Watch supports this bill as it ensures that consumers will have their claims paid out with increased efficiency and transparency. Read more>

Oppose Patient Compensation Act (SB 86)
SB 86, introduced in the Senate on February 4, would significantly harm Georgia consumers by limiting access to the courts in cases of medical negligence. If enacted, the bill would virtually eliminate the right of a Georgia resident to bring a cause of action in court against any provider for medical malpractice. Instead of a constitutionally guaranteed trial by jury, the case would go before an 11 person panel whose decision as to whether “medical error” was committed could not be appealed! Georgia Watch will work strongly to oppose this bill and continue to fight for the patient who has been injured or killed through medical error. Read more>

Support Health Insurance Network Adequacy (SB 158) 
SB 158 pertains to the health insurance industry and contains protections for providers, addresses rental networks, and has favorable network adequacy language that benefits consumers—though with some room for improvement. SB 158 was assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee. The bill will not move forward this legislative session, but is designed to promote conversation. An off-session study committee will further analyze this issue and the proposed bill.

Georgia Watch supports maintaining the parity between Medicaid and Medicare provider reimbursement rates
These Medicaid provider reimbursement increases were part of the Affordable Care Act, but ended December 31, 2014. Such provider payment parity helps to ensure primary care access for Georgia’s Medicaid recipients. Fully funding parity in Georgia requires a $60 million appropriation. The FY 2016 Budget passed by the Georgia House of Representatives this week contains $2.96 million to increase reimbursement for certain OB/GYN services and $1.5 million for reimbursement rate increases for certain primary care services. Sen. Renee Unterman and Sen Dean Burke have led the fight to seek the appropriations for Medicaid parity.

Financing Solar for Georgians (HB 57)
HB 57 passed the full House on February 9th and was introduced in the Senate on February 10th. Read more>

Protect Our Seniors (HB 72)
House Bill 72, The Elder Abuse Bill, was introduced in January. It was favorably reported out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and passed the House on the 29th day of the session, by an overwhelming vote of support: 169-0. Read more>

Nursing Home Bill introduced in House has no arbitration provisions (HB 342)
Following negotiations among senior advocates, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the nursing home industry, a new version of the problematic 2013 bill was introduced in the House on February 12. HB 342 does not include arbitration or other provisions that concerned us. We believe the compromise bill protects senior interests and we will not oppose the bill. Read more>