Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other Georgia Senate leaders this week made the case for two bills to reorganize health care planning in the state and fight the opioid crisis. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Georgia Senate leaders back health care reorganization, opioid bill

Senate leaders on Monday made the case for two bills that they hope will lay the groundwork for stronger health care planning in the state and could lead to changes next year.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told a packed room of reporters and advocates that the bills, Senate Bill 352 and Senate Bill 357, could end up getting more Georgians more affordable health care and make real progress against the opioid crisis.

The January 26, 2018 edition of Georgia Legislative Week in Review with Mark Neisse, Maya Prabhu and the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Erica A. Hernandez/AJC STAFF

SB 357 would create a Health Coordination and Innovation Council composed of health agency heads across the state, as well as a director of health care policy and strategic planning who would report directly to the governor.

The council would be funded with private donations, not with tax money. Cagle acknowledged concerns that special-interest groups who donate may want particular recommendations from the council. But he said the council was composed of dedicated health professionals who would look out for patients’ interests. In addition, he said, all the groups and patients had a shared interest in improving people’s health to lower financial risk. “You can’t do this in isolation,” he said.

State Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, the lead sponsor on SB 357, said he understood people wanted action after he and his colleagues already spent a year researching. But this would create buy-in beyond the Senate.

The council could specifically look at “waivers” to the Medicaid program that the state could design in concert with the federal government. It might include work requirements, and it might insure more people. Both Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they don’t want to expand Medicaid, but they won’t rule out a waiver that happens to cover more people under the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled.

SB 352 would deal with the opioid epidemic. It would create a director of substance abuse, addiction and related disorders, and combat “patient brokering” where unscrupulous rehabilitation centers get paid for taking and keeping patients rather than helping them get well. State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is the lead sponsor and said she is also hoping to get money in the state budget to finance treatment.

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