Weakened anti-Obamacare legislation in Deal’s hands
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Monday afternoon, it was assumed that anti-Obamacare legislation was basically dead in the Georgia General Assembly after the Senate Rules Committee tabled House Bill 707.
On Tuesday, the anti-Obamacare language was put into a bill that had already passed the House and the Senate. And late Tuesday, that bill, House Bill 943, received final passage, with some of the anti-Obamacare language intact. It now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for either his signature or veto.
HB 943 originally dealt with insurance coverage for chemotherapy medication. That language is still in the bill.
HB 943 passed the House on Feb. 21 and the Senate on March 13, but because the Senate version was different from the House version, it had to go back to the House for a vote. That’s when the language from HB 707 was added through a floor amendment offered by Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta.
“After HB 707 stalled in the Senate Rules Committee on Monday, I worked with fellow bill co-sponsors and other parties to salvage as much of the language of the bill as possible,” Lindsey said.
“We got the amendment pushed through and then after the amendment was pushed through, the Senate went ahead and took it up,” said Rep. David Stover, R-Palmetto. Stover was one of the primary sponsors of HB 707.
Sen. Jason Carter, who is running for governor as a Democrat, “tried to call for adjournment” before the bill could be taken up, Stover said. Senate opponents also “tried to table the bill,” Stover said.
“We were kind of surprised to see it show up on another piece of legislation,” said Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan. “But I was pretty glad to see that it had actually made it through.”
The final language is considerably watered down from the original HB 707.
The bill passed Tuesday would still prohibit any government employee from advocating for Medicaid expansion — except on their own time —would prohibit the establishment of any state “insurance exchange,” and would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to run “navigator” programs that help Georgians understand the Affordable Care Act.
The University System of Georgia is currently running a navigator program with a federal grant. The final bill would allow that system to continue until the grant runs out, but once the grant money is gone, the program would cease.
Another change, which was not in the original HB 707 but was added later, deals with the state insurance commissioner. Language that would have prevented the insurance commissioner’s office from taking any action to enforce the provisions of the ACA/Obamacare was removed.
Removing the language about the insurance commissioner “was an 11th hour negotiation with the governor’s office,” Stover said.
When HB 707 was first introduced, before the session began, few thought it had a chance of passing.
“They thought it was an election year gimmick by a bunch of freshmen and a sophomore that would get no traction,” Stover said. Political writer Jim Galloway called it “a bill with a bunch of back benchers on it that had no chance of passing,” Stover said.
“At some point, the back benchers have to become the front benchers. So this is a good start.”
Stover said some people “are mad that some of the language was stripped out.” He tells them that the process of making new laws is necessarily difficult. “It is not meant to be something that one individual or even a group of five individuals can come and change overnight,” Stover said. If things were like that, “we would be living in a Communist or a socialist country at this point.”
“So I don’t feel that the process should be any easier,” he said. “I think it is a good thing that it is as difficult as it is.”
Stover said he and the other sponsors knew that the broad language they originally put in HB 707 “would be very difficult” to get passed.
But “if you start broad, you end up with what you eventually would want to see,” he said.