Georgia lawmakers face thorny health issues during new legislative session – WABE

Lawmakers are back at the Capitol this week for a new legislative session, and they’re facing another big health issue this year.

Last year’s bipartisan Mental Health Parity Act outlined a road map for improving Georgia’s mental health system over the next several years.

One key provision that has been enacted prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for mental health care.

Jeff Breedlove with the Georgia Council for Recovery.

“So when a family is going through a mental health or addiction crisis,” he said, “the family will finally be able to get the coverage that is provided by law in Georgia.”

Now, Breedlove says more needs to be done across the country.

A newly announced statewide coalition, The Substance Use Disorder Policy Partnership, is banking on incoming Republican House Speaker Jon Burns to help build consensus on improving mental health services.

“The numbers are rising because of overdoses. And the funding for existing programs needs to be in line with medical reality,” said Breedlove.

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The medical reality is an epidemic of overdoses, mostly related to opioids.

The CDC reports there will be an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2021, up nearly 15% from 2020.

And, in Georgia, the Department of Public Health reports opioid-related overdose deaths increased 207% between 2010 and 2020.

To address overdoses, Breedlove’s group wants more money for peer-led addiction treatment and recovery programs, and an increase in the state’s mental health provider workforce.

Expanding Medicaid fully under the Affordable Care Act would go a long way toward helping that funding for mental health.

It would also strengthen the state’s struggling hospital system, health advisers say.

Monty Veazey leads the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals. He said that while support for a full expansion in the General Assembly has grown thin, Medicaid expansion remains a long way off in Georgia.

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“We need to have leaders to step forward and say, this is what we’re going to do. And when we’re done, we’re going to have Medicaid expansion,” he said. “It will cost the state about $500 million a year, but we have positive revenue growth in Georgia. I think we can absorb this.

Advocates have so far been unsuccessful in convincing Governor Brian Kemp or the powerful General Assembly Republicans to do so.

And Georgians for a Healthy Future director Laura Colbert said Medicaid expansion is also on the agenda this session.

“The governor has no significant motivation to move forward with Medicaid expansion because he won so heavily in November,” he said, “and because he got the green light on the Pathways waiver.”

Georgia Pathways is Kemp’s limited expansion plan, which was greenlit by the Trump administration.

It will cover around 50,000 adults with low incomes or disabilities who work or volunteer for 80 hours a month.

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Critics say a full Medicaid expansion would cover nearly half a million Georgians who are currently uninsured and save the state money per person covered.

In a full Medicaid expansion, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis, the federal government would foot at least 90% of costs, compared with 67% under Kemp’s plan.

Now, the limited expansion work requirements plan can take effect from this summer.

The General Assembly may also address the issue of abortion access during this legislative session.

A lawsuit challenging the state’s House Bill 481 law that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy is set to be heard in the Georgia Supreme Court this spring.

It remains to be seen whether anti-abortion lawmakers will push for more restrictions on the procedure in 2023, such as a bill banning abortion pills by mail.

A similar attempt failed last year.


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