Georgia Senate panel green lights bill restricting state Obamacare help

by Walter C Jones - Morris News Service

ATLANTA – The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee voted unanimously Thursday in support of House Bill 707 that seeks to block state entities from helping to implement the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.

Also on Thursday, the House added that bill to a separate bill already passed by the Senate to double the chances the Senate would pass the provisions of HB 707.

The Senate committee never held a hearing in which witnesses could testify and it quickly approved the bill without changes or discussion. It was done on the last day the committee could consider it in time for a full Senate vote during the remaining two days of this year’s legislative session.

The quick action caught opponents and supporters off guard.

Tea party members in favor of the bill had bombarded committee members with emails and phone calls and were prepared to raise a ruckus as the committee meeting.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, was pleased with the committee.

“What we have said today is we are going to say ‘no’ to a bad idea, and we’re going to protect state resources because we cannot afford the Unaffordable Care Act,” he said.

With every House Republican supporting the bill, Spencer is confident it will pass the Senate.

Opponents were less pleased.

“I was surprised there was no discussion, given that this is the first time that the Senate has heard it,” said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future.

She was especially concerned about the bill’s prohibition against the University of Georgia from serving as the host of licensed “navigators” that offer assistance to people seeking insurance.

“While there are certainly other entities that can serve as navigators, (UGA has) a statewide presence, and that’s an important service that they’re providing for the citizens of Georgia,” she said.

If the bill doesn’t get changed when the full Senate considers it, passage there would send it directly to the governor for his signature. Spencer has said he has worked with Gov. Nathan Deal’s staff and feels confident the governor will sign it.

Changes the House made to Spencer’s original proposal have limited its potential impact. The initial draft would have kept the insurance plan for state employees and teachers from complying with Obamacare requirements and would have required UGA to surrender the $2.2 million federal grant it received for providing navigators.

The bill now prohibits use of state resources to implement Obamacare, but not necessarily state workers using federal resources.

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