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Healthcare reforms still on the table

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Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome

Legislation that would have created a state healthcare innovation center is dead, vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal — but some initiatives that would have fed the center’s efforts at stabilizing costs and improving access are moving ahead.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the Georgia General Assembly funded consultants to work with federal authorities on potential Medicaid waiver programs. A team also is still slated to go to the University of Pennsylvania’s Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy training center to learn about creating and using a centralized database of information about state services.

“There’s also HB 769, which establishes a Rural Health System Innovation Center,” Hufstetler said. “That’s an important piece of the puzzle going forward.”

Deal called the bill for a statewide innovation center “well-intentioned,” but questioned the structure and management plan. It would have been housed under the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

The measure, Senate Bill 357, came out of a special task force convened by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, which heard months of testimony about what works in other states and private entities.

Hufstetler, a member of the task force and co-sponsor of SB 357, said he understands the governor’s objections. Deal is term-limited and voters will elect a new head of state in November.

“I don’t disagree with Gov. Deal that a lot of (the responsibility) is going to be on the shoulders of the next governor,” Hufstetler said. “But, at the same time, the system we have isn’t working.”

He said a potential 5,299 people in Floyd County are without access to healthcare, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“The policy of continuing to treat these people in the (emergency room) is not working. And there are bigger problems in our more rural areas. That’s why we’re 50th in the country for infant mortality.”

The rural innovation center bill contains incentives to lure physicians to underserved areas, although funding wasn’t allocated this year.

Meanwhile, consultants — “We don’t have the expertise,” Hufstetler said — will be working with CMMS officials to develop Medicaid waiver programs that could address mental health, opioid addiction and other problems that are overwhelming the state system.

“We need programs that promote personal responsibility and reforms, while at the same time getting more access,” Hufstetler said. “The issues are access, cost and outcomes, and we have to bring in the data statewide and work on solutions.”

He and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, co-chaired a task force that recommended merging data from all health and social services agencies under one umbrella. Neither his bill nor Dempsey’s made it through the Legislature this year, but the two chambers came close to working out a compromise.

A grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation secured a place in the University of Pennsylvania training program, and Hufstetler said there’s hope that the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker will name a team this fall.

“After the primary and run-off, we should have a clearer picture of where we’ll be going on this as a state,” he said. “The governor is saying that, depending on the election, it might not go forward so let’s wait and see.”

Hufstetler, who has endorsed Cagle, said there are differing opinions on if the initiative should be housed under the OPB or the Georgia Technology Authority. He also said he believes the team should be made up of agency heads rather than legislators, but choosing them is still a difficult call right now.

“There’s a lot of turnover whenever a new governor takes office,” he noted.