Clash of Forces on Health Issues; Cost-Saving Efforts vs. Compassion in Legislative Debate

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Chocolate-covered doughnuts, heart-shaped Sweetarts and young moms seeking hearing aids for their children greeted legislators Tuesday as a panel designed to resist pressure for such insurance mandates like they support held its organizational meeting that afternoon.

Bracketed in the space of a few hours was the clash of two social forces squeezing lawmakers. On one hand is the desire to hold the line on health-insurance premiums. On the other is a desire by ordinary people for help coping with rotten luck.

The mothers with the treats are concerned about families with even fewer financial means.

"It's basically a group of seven or eight parents that started meeting in our school cafeteria," said Kelly Jenkins, co-founder of LetGeorgiaHear.org.

That led to a petition drive, conversations with politicians and their assault on legislators with a sweet tooth.

For years, Republicans who control Georgia government have argued that health insurance is too costly because of laws that require insurance companies to include specific coverage for 41 items like chiropractors and mental illness. To do something about it, they created a panel to review proposed mandates before legislators can vote on them. The 19-member mandates panel, made up of legislators, doctors, the insurance commissioner and members of the public, can't veto anything, but its recommendations could carry some weight in the General Assembly.

Three proposed mandates will come before the commission this year, one called Ava's Law that would require coverage of autism; a second one, House Bill 74, which would require coverage of children's hearing aids; and a third, HB 73, which would include prescribed weight-reduction diets for the obese.

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, sponsored Ava's Law, named for his 9-year-old niece who is now a veteran witness before legislative committees after four years of pushing the proposal.

"I don't know why insurance companies won't see that this isn't some untested treatment. This is something that works, and it saves money in the long run if they get the treatment early," said Williams, the former president pro tempore, the highest-ranking Senate position.

Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, the sponsor of the hearing-aid and diet bills, is also a heavyweight Republican as the party's House whip - a leadership post third in line behind the speaker. Lindsey doesn't feel he's straying from Republican orthodoxy in pushing mandates that constituents asked for.

"I've long been an advocate for the principle that my job is not to come down here and deliver edicts from the Gold Dome but to take the wisdom of my community to the table where decisions are made," he said. …