This past week the House took up the mantle of Voting Machines, HB 316. This bill is a byproduct of the SAFE Commission and many articles, discussions and meetings. The bill provides for the state to purchase a new voting machine with specifications for said machines, edits exact match, increases ratio of voters to machines, provides for a potential audit trail, allows poll workers to help voters in certain situations, etc The bill does provide some benefits that voters can look forward to. For example HB 316 allows for more assistance from poll workers and many local election officials came throughout the hearings to show their support. While the bill does not explicitly select a specific voting machine, it does favor a system similar to what we have called the Ballot Marking Device (BMD). This allows voters on election day to key in their selection, prints the selection, and then the voter scans the printout through an optical scanner. There are differences between vendors. Some use barcodes to scan, some print on receipt paper like you receive at a store, and some read the words printed. There was great floor debate, but the vote ended along party lines with Democrats voting 72 against and Republicans voting 101 for. The Democrats preferring a hand marked paper ballot before scanning rather than BMD.
HB 31:FY 2020 Budget
We also tackled the budget for the next fiscal year. While there was great disappointment about the lack of funding for Medicaid Expansion, there were good line items in the budget. Feel free to look through this Google Doc that breaks the budget down. I have highlighted some notable changes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YXhJ-z55dLT_ZBAwFjp9F-ZeXy-y4WW_BjVV3Y77PBM/edit?usp=sharing
There is an increased focus on maternal morbidity and maternal mental health. As a member of the Health Appropriations Subcommittee, I advocated for funding for an Emory program to provide telepsychiatry services to women suffering from postpartum depression, a program to create a center of excellence at Morehouse medical School, and additional resources to continue the research on maternal morbidity. We were also able to get $500,000 for permanent supportive housing for the mentally ill in Fulton County/Atlanta area.
As Legislative Day 28: Crossover Day comes, please continue to contact me about issues.
The 2019 Session started slowly since it was interrupted by snow warnings and the Super Bowl. The pace has picked up and there are rigorous discussions about how to fix our healthcare system to make affordable care available to more Georgians. Possible reforms or repeal of the 1970s Certificate of Need Law (CON) has engaged most of the hospital lobbyists. My priority is to focus on how to get the uninsured covered by expanding Medicaid to ensure accessible and affordable healthcare to all Georgians. Here are some basic facts.
Georgia is only one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid
· Georgia has missed out on up to $3 billion for 9 years in federal funding that could cover Georgians and stabilize our rural hospitals
· Medicaid Expansion could create 56,000 new jobs in the healthcare sector
· Medicaid Expansion could cover 32,000 veterans and their spouses not able to get healthcare through the VA
· Even after nine years Medicaid Expansion is still the fastest way to provide relief for people who do not have health insurance.
There is a Democratic proposal HB 37 implementing full Medicaid Expansion and the Republican proposal SB 106 creating a Georgia specific waiver permission for families up to 100% rather that 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and other limitations. The differences are outlined in this document created by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. GBPI.
We did pass the ’19 Amended Budget with some improvements for school based behavioral interventions and more relief for the farmers still struggling after the Michael Hurricane devastation. Here is a summary of that budget.
One aspect of the ’19 Budget highlights the most stunning example of why we need to take advantage of the federal dollars available to Medicaid services. Comparison of the Medicaid Budget in DCH and the State Mental Health Budget in DBHDD shows why our funding for behavioral health is among the lowest in the nation. These are my unaudited gross estimates.
Medicaid Behavioral Health
Federal $’s $7.8 Billion $ 149 Million
State $’s $7.8 Billion $1.2 Billion
Total $’s $15.6 Billion $1.4 Billion
Georgia has rejected the billions of dollars available from the Feds for behavioral health services and opted to use almost all state dollars to try to provide these services. The good news is that both sides are looking for was way to improve this picture. The bad news is that co-pays, work requirements, and how to protect the commercial insurers dominate the discussion rather than trying to improve and augment services. The hospital lobbyists are forced to focus on plans to repeal or revise the existing CON Law that regulates hospital expansions.
On Thursday, January 25th, Members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus met to discuss healthcare access and Medicaid expansion. We discussed thebarriers that currently prevent over 240,000 hardworking Georgians from receiving affordable health care, and introduced House Bill 669 to expand Medicaid here in Georgia. You can view the press release here.