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.
to April 13, 1998 Contents Page