Emory Report

April 13, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 28

Harrison tracked over 40 bills
for '98 legislative session

The so-called "40 days and 80 nights" of the 1998 Georgia legislative session ended March 19 at 11:45 p.m., after legislators enacted several laws favorable to Emory and its constituencies.

A bill sponsored by Mike Polak, who represents Emory's district, wrote the HOPE scholarship program into law. "Basically it means HOPE is preserved for the future," explained Kathy (Fine) Harrison, Emory's director of state government affairs. "It had been a regulation, so the next governor could have changed it. Now that it's codified into law, the legislature would have to agree to any change." Like the state's other private colleges and universities, Emory continues to qualify as an "eligible postsecondary institution" for HOPE scholarships.

Lawmakers decided they wanted lottery-funded education programs such as HOPE and pre-kindergarten classes to be incorporated into the state's constitution. It will be up to voters to decide if that will indeed be the case on a ballot referendum in November.

Another proposed ballot referendum would have added a constitutional amendment regarding the proposed tobacco settlement, authorizing the creation of a Tobacco Industry Payments Trust Fund to use settlement proceeds solely for indigent health care. That bill didn't pass this year, but Harrison said this legislation will be a top priority for Emory next year. She plans to work with School of Public Health and health sciences administrators to create a proposal in the interim.

Harrison spent much of her time at the General Assembly tracking bills that had repercussions for the health sciences. Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns was a member of a commission that helped restructure the Joint Board of Family Practice, a group that will look at issues regarding the state's supply of doctors, including how to meet needs in rural and underserved areas and how to create incentives to build practices in these areas.

Emory administrators are relieved by passage of HB 1156, which reversed a law passed last year that made it difficult for hospitals to deny privileges to non-board-certified physicians. "This is good news since it had been an important legislative priority for Emory Hospital, which has a closed staff policy," Harrison said.

The Certificate of Need law, known as CON, was a big issue last year, Harrison said, and 10 bills circulated this year around the 1979 legislation that restricts construction of hospitals and health care facilities. All but one law creating a study commission on the relationship between the CON law and long-term care died in session. "I think nobody wanted to touch CON this year," Harrison said.

Instead there were numerous attempts to mandate coverage or consumer choice for various medical conditions and situations. Many of them, such as mandated exams for cervical cancer and hospital length of stay for mastectomy patients did not pass this year.

"These bills are generally supported by [doctors and other health care professionals] and strongly opposed by insurers and the Chamber of Commerce," Harrison said. One bill that did pass requires managed care plans to pay normal treatment for children with cancer who are participating in a clinical research trial. "We're not seeing it here as much as in other places," Harrison said, "but insurance companies were beginning not to pay normal charges associated with cancer treatment because children were participating in clinical trials. This is more of a fairness issue." Harrison will be working to form a coalition around this issue soon. "We hope to broaden [the law] to include diseases other than cancer," she said.

Emory lobbyists also worked to defeat laws contrary to the University's interests. One such law was an amendment to a senate bill that would have required hospitals to stock all types of drugs available for prescription. "This would have been prohibitively expensive," said Harrison. "Hospitals decide for themselves on a preferred drug list they stock in their pharmacies." Called formularies, these preferred medicines allow hospitals to obtain discounts for bulk purchases. "We were able to help quash this bill," Harrison said.

Emory pediatric specialists and Crawford Long, Egleston and Grady hospitals will benefit from a new $19.9 million children's health insurance program, "PeachCare for Kids," that was written into the 1999 fiscal year state budget. Hundreds of uninsured children are treated by Emory doctors annually. The new program covers children of families with incomes between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level and will offer most of the same health care services available to children under Medicai. Enrolled families will pay premiums for coverage, and plans call for current Medicaid providers to be automatically enrolled in the new program.

Harrison, whose legislative plate was full of health care matters this session, hopes to focus more of her attention on Universitywide issues next year, one of which will be the potential MARTA rail line along Clifton Corridor.

-Stacey Jones

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