Kemp Signs Maternal Mortality, Surprise Billing Legislation Into Law

Governor Brian Kemp signed a slew of health care bills into law Thursday at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Ga.

Emma Hurt / WABE

Gov. Brian Kemp signed several health care bills into law Thursday, including a bill targeted at the state’s maternal mortality crisis, and another designed to alleviate surprise medical billing for many Georgians.

H.B. 1114 extends Medicaid coverage for all mothers up to six months postpartum, from two months.

Georgia’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the country, and according to the state, 60 percent of the deaths were among non-Hispanic, Black women.  About 60% of those deaths were also preventable, per the research.

“Coupled with other investments…H.B. 1114 will dramatically improve health outcomes for Georgia mothers,” Kemp said at the signing. “And that’s something we can all agree on.”

Nearly $20 million was included in this year’s state budget for the cause.

“Losing one mother is too many,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican who sponsored the bill.

“Funding to get these mothers the care they need for a longer period of time so we could catch the problems they have and get them seen before their Medicaid ran out was critical.”

“It’s a big deal,” she said.

Democratic state Rep. Mable Thomas, who has been working on the issue for years, called it “historic.”

“This bill helps us move from being the worst in the nation, in terms of African American women dying three to four times more in childbirth than any other race,” she said.

The surprise medical billing law was six years in the making, said Republican state Rep. Richard Smith.

“Something this good, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. We’ve been working on it for six years, and it’s a process.”

Patients will just be liable for their deductible, copay and out-of-pocket maximum, and the provider and insurer will decide with an arbitrator, which will cover the rest, he said.

“It takes the consumer out of the middle and will put the payment method between the provider and the insurer,” said Republican state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“It’s going to be huge for consumers.”

Medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., he pointed out.

“In total, the bill will cover about 2.5 million Georgians, we estimate,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, who lobbied to get the bill through for years. “Those are really the folks who have individual health plans on the ACA, small group plans through their jobs, that kind of health insurance.” She credited Kemp and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan’s support in helping get it “across the finish line.”

“This will be a huge financial gain for many Georgia families,” she said, but pointed out federal reform is needed to cover large group health insurance plans.

“I wish the federal government would take care of it on the national level as well,” Hufstetler agreed.