This week’s legislative highlights 
The Georgia House of Representatives passed the FY 2017 Amended Budget (H.B. 43), which includes a $17.9 million increase in the primary care and OB-GYN codes for Medicaid. This is one of the Medical Association of Georgia’s (MAG) legislative priorities for 2017. The Senate will begin to consider the budget next week. 
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced H.B. 65, a bill that would add six conditions to the state’s ‘Low THC Oil Patient Registry’ – including Tourette’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, intractable pain (i.e., severe, debilitating pain that has not responded to previously prescribed medication or surgical measures for more than three months, post-traumatic stress disorder), Alzheimer’s disease, human immunodeficiency virus, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Rep. Peake also introduced H.R 36, a measure that would result in a constitutional amendment that would, if it passed, allow the growth and sale of medical cannabis in Georgia. MAG is assessing the bills, which are in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. 
In a related development, Sen. Ben Watson, M.D. (R-Savannah) introduced a bill (S.B. 16) that would lower the amount of THC that is allowed in the cannabidiol oil that can be used by patients who are registered with the Georgia Low THC Oil Patient Registry from 5.0 percent to 3.0 percent. It would also add autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. MAG is assessing the legislation, which is in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. 
Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) introduced a bill (H.B. 71) that would require physicians and health centers to disclose certain information about the other providers they expect to utilize and the fees they typically charge before any services are rendered. This legislation would also require physicians to participate in every health insurance plan that is offered by any hospital where they have privileges. MAG is opposing this bill because it will reduce the amount physicians are reimbursed by insurers as well as placing an undue burden on physicians. The measure is in the House Insurance Committee, which Rep. Smith chairs. 
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) introduced S.B. 4, the ‘Enhancing Mental Health Treatment in Georgia Act,’ a bill that would create a Georgia Mental Health Treatment Task Force that would recommend ways to improve the state’s mental health care system. MAG is evaluating the legislation, which has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee (HHS) – which Sen. Unterman chairs.  
The Senate HHS is also considering Sen. Unterman’s ‘Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act’ (S.B. 8), which would create a payment system for out-of-network care and prohibit balance billing. Sen. Unterman has advised MAG that she will introduce a new version of the bill, which MAG will evaluate as soon as it’s available. 
And Sen. Unterman introduced S.B. 81, an “omnibus bill” (i.e., several measures that are packaged together), which is designed to address the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. 
Section 1 of S.B. 81 – the ‘Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Act’ – codifies the emergency order that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently issued to allow a standing order so naloxone is available on an over-the-counter basis in the state. The late Jeffrey’s Gay’s grandfather is Dallas Gay, who serves as the community chair of the MAG Foundation’s ‘Think About It’ campaign to reduce prescription drug abuse in Georgia. Jeffrey Gay died of a prescription drug and alcohol overdose in 2012. MAG supports this section. 
Section 2 of S.B. 81 would change the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) in several important ways, including requiring pharmacists to input prescription information every 24 hours instead of weekly; allowing prescribers to delegate their access to the PDMP to any office staff; and requiring prescribers to check the PDMP whenever they prescribe a Schedule II, III, IV or V controlled substance to a patient for the first time and at least every 90 days thereafter – prescriptions of three or less days notwithstanding. Under Section 2, prescribers would not be able to prescribe more than a five-day supply of a Schedule II, III, IV or V controlled substance to an adult they are seeing for the first time. Prescribers would also not be able to prescribe these drugs to a minor for more than a five-day period, and they would be required to discuss the risks associated with the drug with the minor and their parent(s) or guardian. The five-day restrictions would not apply when the prescriber determines that a longer prescription is necessary – and the prescriber would have to note the factors that warranted the longer prescription in the patient’s medical record, along with a statement that the prescriber determined that alternative treatments would not be appropriate. Under this legislation, a prescriber/delegate who failed to review or who disregarded the prescription information could be guilty of a felony – punishable by one to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000; they would also be reported to the applicable licensing board. Other than the requirement for dispensers to update prescription information more often and increasing the number or staff a prescriber can delegate to access the PDMP on their behalf, MAG opposes Section 2. MAG is educating members of the House and Senate about the potential consequences associated with Section 2 of S.B. 81. 
Section 3 of S.B. 81 requires providers, coroners, and medical examiners to report instances of neonatal abstinence syndrome to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH would then be required to give an annual report to the president of the State Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chairs of the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees. MAG is evaluating this section of the bill. 
Section 4 of S.B. 81 requires the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) to conduct an annual, onsite inspection of narcotic treatment programs in the state. This legislation would also require these programs to submit patient outcome to DCH on a monthly basis. MAG is also assessing this section of the bill, which has not yet been assigned to a committee. 
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) introduced S.B. 47, a measure that would exempt a visiting sports team’s physicians from certain licensure requirements if they are licensed and in good standing in another state. MAG supports this legislation, which has been assigned to the Senate HHS Committee. 
Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) introduced the ‘Direct Primary Care Act’ (S.B. 50), which would exempt direct primary care agreements between physicians and patients for the provision of health care services for an agreed-upon fee and period of time from insurance regulations. MAG supports this legislation, which is in the Senate HHS Committee. 
Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) introduced S.B. 52, a bill that would remove the sunset provision on the state law that allows licensed professional counselors to be authorized to conduct emergency examinations on individuals who are mentally ill or drug- or alcohol-dependent. MAG is assessing the measure, which is in the Senate HHS Committee. 
Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) introduced S.B. 55, legislation that would allow a competent adult or his/her agent to execute a psychiatric advance directive containing mental health care preferences, information, or instructions regarding his or her mental health care. MAG is assessing the legislation, which is in the Senate HHS Committee.
Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) introduced S.B. 56 – the ‘Accuracy and Transparency in Physician/Provider Profiling Act’ – a measure that would provide for standards, criteria, and disclosure requirements for profiling programs that compares, rates, ranks, measures, tiers, or classifies a physician's or physician group's performance, quality, or cost of care against objective or subjective standards or the practice of other physicians. MAG is assessing the legislation, which is in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. 
Finally, Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) introduced S.B. 70, which would extend Georgia’s Medicaid Provider Fee – also known as the ‘bed tax’ – until June 30, 2020. MAG will monitor this legislation, which has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. 
‘Physicians’ Day’ deemed 'great opportunity' and 'big success'
Some 75 physicians and 25 legislators attended the 2017 Georgia ‘Physicians’ Day at the Capitol,’ which took place on Wednesday.
“This was a great opportunity for physicians in every specialty and practice setting to deliver some critical messages to state lawmakers in a very unified and powerful way,” says Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) President Steven M. Walsh, M.D. 
MAG Government Relations Director Derek Norton echoes those sentiments, stating that, “This year’s event was a big success. We had a large contingent of physicians who were able to discuss important issues with their state lawmakers in a very personal and powerful way.”
Dr. Walsh explains that, “Among the key issues we discussed with legislators were narrowing health insurance networks, the ‘surprise coverage gap’ that health insurers subject our patients to in ER settings, the need to support Medicaid physicians – especially those in the primary care and OB-GYN specialties – and ways to enhance the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so it becomes an even more valuable tool physicians and other health care providers can use, and will embrace, to help fight the state’s prescription drug epidemic.”   
Norton also emphasized that the number of physicians who attended this year’s event was up considerably from recent years, stating that, “It is a great sign in terms of momentum and what I hope and believe we will see in 2018 and beyond.”   
In addition to MAG, the event was sponsored by Resurgens Orthopaedics, the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology, the Georgia Society of the American College of Surgeons, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists, the Georgia Orthopedic Society, the Georgia Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, and the Georgia Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery. 
MAG president says ruling to block merger 'great news'
A federal judge has blocked the pending Aetna-Humana merger, a development Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) President Steven M. Walsh, M.D., described as “great news for both patients and physicians.”
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), U.S. District Judge John D. Bates “found that the merger would have substantially lessened competition in Medicare Advantage and commercial health insurance markets….[and he determined that] meaningful action was needed to preserve competition and protect high-quality medical care from unprecedented market power that Aetna would acquire from the merger deal.”
Dr. Walsh emphasized that, “This deal clearly would have exacerbated Georgia’s physician shortage and undermined the economic viability of the state’s health care system, especially in rural areas where hospitals and medical practices are struggling to keep their doors open.”
AMA added that, “The decision is a historic, stunning affirmation of the position urged by [AMA] and the 17-state medical association antitrust coalition members (including MAG). The court’s ruling sets a notable legal precedent by recognizing Medicare Advantage as a separate and distinct market that does not compete with traditional Medicare."
An AP article has reported that Aetna is “giving serious consideration to an appeal after putting forward a compelling case.”
Dr. Walsh promises that, “MAG is going to continue to remain fully engaged and keep its members informed.” 
MAG calls for lawmakers to fix ‘surprise coverage gap’
Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) President Steven M. Walsh, M.D., called for state lawmakers to put an end to balance billing in emergency care settings by passing legislation that will address the “surprise coverage gap” that has been created by health insurers during a ‘End the Surprise Insurance Gap’ campaign rally that took place at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
Dr. Walsh says that, “The Medical Association of Georgia believes that it is critical to end the surprise insurance gap in emergency medicine care settings. Physicians have seen their patients’ financial burden increase in dramatic ways as health insurance companies have narrowed their networks.” 
He also notes that, “The health insurer shell game is so murky that even the savviest patients have trouble navigating its rules. A lot of patients do their research and try to do the right thing and go to a hospital that is in their insurance network. But they generally don’t have any way of knowing when a doctor they need to see is in or out of the network. The system lacks transparency – and our patients pay in the end.”
Dr. Walsh also stresses that, “Emergency department physicians want to be included in these networks. The problem is that health insurers often offer physicians inadequate, take-it-or-leave-it deals – forcing them to opt out of the network. The insurers wash their hands of medical bills they should cover. This harms the patient and undermines the doctor-patient relationship.” 
Finally, he is calling on legislators to fix the problem, proclaiming that, “MAG is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that will end the surprise insurance gap once and for all.” 
MAG Executive Director Donald J. Palmisano Jr. also spoke at the event.
In addition to MAG, the entities that are supporting the ‘End Surprise Insurance Gap’ campaign sponsors thus far include the Georgia College of Emergency Physicians and the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia.
Contact Palmisano at with questions related to the ‘End the Surprise Insurance Gap’ campaign. 
‘Top Docs’ show with Georgia House HHS chair now online
A recording of a recent Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) ‘Top Docs Radio’ show that featured Georgia Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) – the chair of the Georgia House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee – is now available online. 
Rep. Cooper discussed the 2017 legislative session and her views on the state’s health care system. 
Rep. Cooper has sponsored key legislation that has been enacted in Georgia, including an HIV screening bill for pregnant women, the Georgia’s Smoke Free Air Act, and the Health Share Volunteers in Medicine Act.  
It is also worth noting that she was married to the late Tom Cooper, M.D., who co-founded MAG’s ‘Doctor of the Day’ program at the State Capitol. 
MAG sponsors the ‘Top Docs’ program at 12 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. Between downloads and live listeners, MAG's ‘Top Docs’ show has reached more than 8,500 listeners – which includes people in all 50 states and 84 countries.  
MAG’s ‘Top Docs Radio’ show is supported with a grant from Health Care Research, a subsidiary of Alliant Health Solutions.  
Dr. Fonda Mitchell makes the case for GAMPAC (video)
Fonda Mitchell, M.D., recently recorded a video to appeal to her fellow physicians to join GAMPAC, the Medical Association of Georgia’s non-partisan political action committee that elects pro-physician candidates at the state level…
“It has never been more important for us, as physicians, to be united in our advocacy efforts in Georgia,” says GAMPAC Chair Michelle Zeanah, M.D. “State lawmakers are considering important legislation that will influence our patients and our profession in significant ways.”
She adds that, “It is essential for physicians to support legislators who are strong advocates for the medical profession and patient-centered health care – which is why I am urging my colleagues to join GAMPAC today.”
Finally, Dr. Zeanah explains that, “Physicians can join GAMPAC at the membership level that suits their needs – whether that’s the Chairman’s Circle at $2,500 or the Capitol Club at $1,000 or the general membership level at $250 – in a few simple steps by visiting the GAMPAC website or calling 770.312.5288.”
Contact Bethany Sherrer at or 678.303.9273 with questions related to GAMPAC.
MAG’s 2017 state legislative priorities 
The Medical Association of Georgia’s priorities for the 2017 state legislative session include…
Out-of-Network Billing & Network Adequacy
MAG will 1) support reforms that will require appropriate network adequacy standards for health insurers and 2) call for health insurers to be more transparent in their contracts with physicians’ practices and 3) support legislation that will result in physician payment methodologies that are adequate and sustainable for out-of-network emergency care.  
Medicaid Payment Parity
MAG will be an advocate for the General Assembly to continue to fund the Medicaid parity payment program for all areas of primary care.
Maintenance of Certification (MOC)
MAG will 1) work to ensure that Maintenance of Certification is not a condition of licensure or a condition of hospital credentialing and 2) support efforts that will alleviate the costly and burdensome aspects of MOC for physicians.
Patient Safety
MAG will be an advocate for legislation that improves patient safety.
Contact MAG Government Relations director Derek Norton at or 678.303.9280 with questions related to MAG’s legislative priorities for 2017.
Make a difference as MAG's ‘Doctor of the Day’
The Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) is encouraging physicians in the state to serve as a MAG ‘Doctor of the Day’ program volunteer during this year’s legislative session, which is expected to run through the middle of April. 
MAG Doctor of the Day volunteers work in the Medical Aid Station at the state Capitol, where they provide free minor medical care to legislators and their staff. 
As a MAG Doctor of the Day, you will…
– Be introduced in the House and Senate chambers by your state representative and senator
– Have your photo taken with the Gov. Nathan Deal (contingent on his availability)
– Have a reserved parking place
– Be assisted by a nurse
– Be protected by the state’s ‘Good Samaritan Law’
The MAG Doctor of the Day program is a non-political service. Volunteers do not serve as lobbyists when they serve as a MAG Doctor of the Day volunteer.
If you are interested in serving as a MAG Doctor of the Day volunteer, click here for a form that you can print, complete and submit to Liz Bullock at or you can simply can call her at 678.303.9271.
Go to for additional information on the MAG ‘Doctor of the Day’ program, including logistical details and FAQ. 
Thanking this week’s ‘Doctor of the Day’ volunteers
MAG is thanking and applauding its ‘Doctor of the Day’ volunteers for the week of January 23, which include…
James P. Capes, M.D.
Matthew T. Keadey, M.D.
Benjamin Lefkove, M.D.
James. L. Smith Jr., M.D.
Carmen Sulton, M.D.
Robert J. Wagner, M.D.
Physicians who are interested in serving as a MAG ‘Doctor of the Day’ volunteer can click here to complete an application or they can contact Liz Bullock at or 678.303.9271.
Save June 23-25 for MAG’s ‘Legislative Education Seminar’
MAG is encouraging member physicians to save June 23-25 for its 2017 ‘Legislative Education Seminar’ meeting, which will take place at Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris. 
More than 50 physicians and 25 state leaders attended the event in 2016. 
Monitor for details, and contact Derek Norton at or 678.303.9280 with any questions related to MAG’s 2017 ‘Legislative Education Seminar.’
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