Georgia General Assembly

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler says the patient protection measure is a high priority this year.

Legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills not covered by their insurance is moving through the Georgia Senate.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, is sponsoring Senate Bill 56, which has provisions applying to scheduled and emergency procedures. It aims to address the financial hardship patients sometimes face when they discover later that some of the services were done by out-of network providers.

"The lieutenant governor sent it to the Insurance Committee and it will possibly get a hearing next week," Hufstetler said Tuesday.

Lawmakers have tried for several years to rein in the charges, and the surprises. But the measure has been caught between the interests of the insurers and the providers — such as radiologists, pathologists and anesthesiologists who are hospital contractors rather than employees.

A House-sponsored bill last year would have required hospitals, physicians and insurers to make clear up front if a scheduled service provider is out of their network. Hufstetler passed a bill through the Senate last year that also would have capped what the providers could charge.

Neither measure made it through both chambers and, last week, he started the process again.

"There's a little different payment rate this time, to try to get a compromise out, and I'm sure we'll do some negotiations," Hufstetler said. "But the Senate has indicated it's a high priority to work something out."

The Senate passed on Monday a measure he co-sponsored that would create a streamlined method of licensing physicians to work in Georgia when they've been licensed in other states.

SB 16, the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act, now moves to the House for review.

♦ Meanwhile, Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, also has resubmitted two health-related bills that didn't make it through the Legislature during the previous two-year term.

"Medical things kind of fell apart last year," she said. "We'll try again."

With the elections over and a new term underway, lawmakers are starting with clean slates.

Dempsey's House Bill 160 would re-instate a pilot program covering bariatric surgery for the treatment and management of obesity under the state health insurance plan. The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

HB 187 would create a new pilot program covering medications and counseling for the same conditions.

Both measures are awaiting hearings in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The chairman, Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, is a co-sponsor of both bills.