Gov. Brian Kemp discusses health-care legislation he signed at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta on July 16, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a spate of bills Thursday that passed out of the 2020 legislative session on curbing surprise medical charges, temporarily licensing out-of-state dentists and extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers.

At a signing ceremony Thursday, Kemp highlighted the importance of signing health-care focused legislation as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit Georgia. More than 131,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday afternoon, including 3,104 people who have died.

“This is certainly an important moment and a historic step forward in my opinion for Georgia when it comes to health care,” Kemp said during the ceremony at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. ”Frankly, it couldn’t come at a better time as our state and our country face the greatest public health challenge that we’ve seen.”

State lawmakers passed numerous bills in the coronavirus-interrupted session that wrapped up last month. Many still await Kemp’s signature including COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and hospitals, home-delivery alcohol services and an excise tax on vaping products.

House Bill 888, by Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, aims to reduce the chances for patients to receive unexpectedly high hospital bills by requiring health insurers and health-care providers to settle cost disputes arising from emergency medical procedures performed by out-of-network providers.

Its companion legislation, House Bill 789, creates a rating system for hospitals based on how many medical specialty groups like anesthesiologists and radiologists are contracted. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, said the intent is to promote “truth-in-advertising” that can help curb surprise billing practices.

Another health-care piece of legislation, House Bill 1114 authorizes the state to apply for a federal waiver extending Medicaid coverage to new mothers for up to six months after birth instead of the current limit of two months. Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the bill also extends Medicaid coverage for breast-feeding and lactation care.

House Bill 521, by Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, allows dentists licensed outside the state to temporarily practice dentistry in Georgia if they are serving low-income patients at clinics or charitable events. The temporary licenses will be valid for five days.

Other legislation Kemp signed Thursday includes:

  • House Bill 932 (by Gaines): Allows podiatrists in Georgia to organize professional corporations with other doctors and revises certification rules for podiatrists performing foot amputations.
  • House Bill 578 (by Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome): Permits the state Department of Human Services to conduct criminal background checks on volunteers and interns.
  • Senate Bill 28 (by Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah): Prohibits insurance copayments for health benefits plans from being set in a way that could “unfairly deny health-care services.”
  • Senate Bill 395 (by Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah): Sets terms for investments in mutual, trust and retirement funds, and revises terms on reserving proceeds from the sale of hospitals for indigent care.