Georgia House gives 'Patients First Act' final passage

Members of the Georgia House of Representatives gave final passage Monday to a bill that will change the way the state approaches healthcare.

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Lawmakers approved the "Patients First Act" by a vote of 104-67.

"We're very thankful for today's vote," said Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Georgia. "We will move forward from here, but really, really I'm happy we got this done early in the session."

The measure allows the state to hire a consultant to examine Georgia's current healthcare challenges and offer solutions.  It also gives the Governor the flexibility to seek federal waivers for both Medicaid and the private insurance marketplace, established under the Affordable Care Act. 

"I think this gives us a unique ability to create a Georgia-based plan [...] to innovate a current program that we have, but also look at how we drive down private-sector healthcare costs that helps hard-working Georgians," Gov. Kemp explained. 

While some Democrats voted for the bill, many expressed concerns about the 240,000 Georgians who are left in the "coverage gap." 

"So we can talk about this as a healthcare access bill all we want, but the fundamental thing is that we are making a policy choice that does not provide coverage for individuals," said House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville.

Lawmakers already approved money in this year's amended budget to hire a consulting firm. Kemp said he hopes to get one on board as soon as possible.