Local lawmakers host town halls with constituents
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
March 03, 2013 12:00 AM | 1355 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and State Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton) had the first set of community town halls during this year’s legislative session Saturday afternoon to update constituents on what legislators have been working on for the last 27 days of the Georgia General Assembly.

The meetings were Saturday at Hickory Flat Public Library and subsequently at Ball Ground City Hall.

Hill told the audience that after day 30, the halfway point of the legislative session, no new bills can be passed in the House of Representatives and moved over to the Senate.

Hill said major actions completed by the legislation so far include passing a balanced budget, which the state is federally required to do; passing an ethics reform package — which both Reps. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) and Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), two freshman members of the Cherokee delegation, voted against in the 164-4 vote; passing a change in the HOPE grant, which provides money for technical college scholarships, to require applicants to have a 2.0 rather than 3.0 grade point average; and passing a juvenile justice reform package.

Beach, who was elected to his first term this past year, also discussed a bill he’s working on called the Patient Injury Act, a medical malpractice reform bill.

He said a hearing was held on the bill Thursday and will continue Monday, but said it was unlikely he would move out of committee during this year’s session.

“This is sweeping legislation. This is bold reform,” Beach said. “Nobody’s ever done this in the United States. So it would be a big, big change.”

Beach, who previously served on the Grady Hospital Board of Visitors for six years, said he hopes the bill will allow doctors to perform fewer unnecessary medical tests to protect from medical malpractice lawsuits, or “defensive medicine.”

Beach quoted a 2010 Gallup poll that reports 82 percent of Georgia doctors practice the so-called defensive medicine. He said $13.25 billion worth of procedures were done in that year alone that doctors deemed unnecessary.

“In Medicaid alone, $700 million in unnecessary tests were run,” Beach said. “That’s a lot of money. So what I’m trying to accomplish with this bill is to take cost out of health care by addressing defensive medicine.”

He added in Georgia, 204,000 Medicaid claims are filed each day, amounting to approximately $30 million paid those patients.

Beach said the bill calls for an administrative panel, which he compared to a workmen’s compensation panel, as an alternative to bringing a medical malpractice suit to a traditional court. He said many medical malpractice suits often take several years to resolve and on average, only 10 percent of patients receive compensation at about 17 percent of the original claim.

Beach said he has already faced opposition from many trial lawyers and the Medical Association of Georgia, who he pointed out is funded by MAG Mutual, a company that writes medical malpractice insurance.

“They don’t like this, but we have to do something to cut down on our health care cost,” Beach said. “If we don’t do something, we’re not going to have any doctors in this state. We’re losing doctors, we’re losing primary care physicians… We’ve got to figure out a way to protext those doctors. If they feel protected, one — they’ll come here and two — they won’t have these unnecessary tests.”

Former Cherokee Commissioner Jim Hubbard, who attended the Hickory Flat session, said he’s often experienced similar situations when going to the doctor.

“One of the things I’ve noticed, they’ll do a test when you come in and do the same test as you leave,” Hubbard said. “That’s the way they can prove in court what changed while you were there. And medically, it’s not really necessary.”

One audience member in Ball Ground questioned the added government bureaucracy of the measure, but Beach said the bill would not require any taxpayer funding and the panel would be paid by health care providers.

He added the measure would also reduce cases seen by the courts.

“I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that going down the path we’re going, it’s not an option,” Beach said.
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