AJC file

The Jolt: Hints about health care and the Legislature begin to surface

Late Tuesday, House Speaker David Ralston named a 15-member special committee to implement recommendations for the improvement of rural health care in Georgia that were generated last month by, yes, another House committee.

We’ve told you that we suspect a focus on the state’s certificate-of-need system, a four-decade effort to cap health costs by limiting competition among hospitals and other health care providers, is on the block. Possibly as the price for some sort of Medicaid waiver – which the Legislature would have to approve.

In his press release, Ralston didn’t disabuse us of this notion. “For years we have wrestled with how to maintain access to quality, affordable health care throughout our state – particularly in our rural areas,” Ralston said. “It is my view that we must have a proper forum to discuss any proposed changes to our health care regulations, including our certificate-of-need program.

Given that Gov.-elect Brian Kemp has yet to show his hand, where the 2019 session of the Legislature is headed on health care remains an open question. But it may be significant that Ralston’s special House committee on the topic will be chaired by Richard Smith, R-Columbus, who is also chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

In today’s paper, our AJC colleague Ariel Hart notes that, in addition to the CON issue, the Legislature could take up “surprise billing” by hospitals – a matter that has been a previous focus of Smith.

Governor-elect Kemp has also hinted that he would pursue a federal waiver – not concerning Medicaid, but in order to stabilize insurance premiums on Georgia’s Affordable Care Act exchange – another reason to have an insurance specialist as a top negotiator.

Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, will serve as vice chair of the special committee. She’s the only metro Atlanta legislator on the 15-member panel.

Only four members are Democrats, but one of them is state Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, the dean of the House. When you put Smyre on a committee, that’s a signal that – in the end -- you’re going to need Democratic votes to reach your goal. And that there’s some hard bargaining ahead.

***

Speaker David Ralston, by the way, will be on GPB’s “Political Rewind” at 2 p.m. today, with host Bill Nigut and one of your Insiders.

***

Also, Tuesday, Speaker Ralston named state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, as the new chairman of the House Rules Committee. Powell replaces the late John Meadows, who died late last year after a lengthy battle with cancer. The rules chairmanship is considered the second-most powerful job in the chamber.

But that leaves another empty chair to fill – Powell had been chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, in charge of all tax legislation.

***

A Fulton County Superior Court judge will hear a state motion to dismiss a lawsuit contesting the results the 2018 race for lieutenant governor, won by Republican Geoff Duncan, who is slated to be sworn into office on Monday.

The Daily Report has picked up on an affidavit included in the case file from Philip Stark, a UC-Berkeley professor and expert in election statistics, who found the results “are in substantial doubt.”

He said there was a notable difference between undervote rates of paper ballots for Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico and those cast on the state’s electronic voting machines. And he raised the possibility of malfunction, bugs, hacking or “other error or malfeasance” that caused some votes not to be recorded.

Amico is not a party to the lawsuit, but we’re told that she met this week with Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden to express her concerns about, among other things, a possible 100,000-vote drop-off in votes cast in the race for lieutenant governor -- which occurred only on the state’s outdated voting machines.

Crittenden leaves her temp job on Monday -- she was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal when Brian Kemp resigned from the position after winning the Nov. 6 race for governor.

***

Hitting the road: Gov.-elect Brian Kemp sets out today on a string of campaign-style events before his inauguration to thank supporters and rev up the Republican base.

The nine “Georgia First Celebration” events across the state mirror his hectic campaign bus tour schedules — and could reflect a take-it-to-the-people strategy after the election. 

Kemp will start Wednesday with visits to an Augusta club and a Savannah convention center, followed by trips to a Fort Valley event space, a peanut warehouse in Blakely and a supporter’s farm in Chula. The tour will end with events in Columbus, Whitesburg, Gainesville and Dalton.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X