House resolution addresses doctor shortage in rural Georgia


On March 19, the House of Representatives adopted HR 302, which strives to increase the number of doctors in Georgia through a plea to Congress. Currently Georgia faces a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural parts of the state.

Last year, the House Study Committee on Medical Education found that the shortage of doctors is primarily caused by a shortage of residency slots in our state. While the state has taken great steps to increase the number of medical students in Georgia, we still need more support from the federal government to help fund residency slots. Currently, the federal government's distribution of residency slots is ineffective in addressing the needs of growing populations in states like Georgia.

HR 302 urges Congress to enact reforms to the nation's federally financed graduate medical education programs, so that states like Georgia can receive the fair amount of support we need to meet the health workforce requirements of the future. Since doctors tend to live in the communities where they do their residencies, it is important that we offer more residency slots to ultimately gain more doctors in Georgia.

While urging Congress to take action, in the meantime we should continue to consider state policies that make Georgia a more attractive place for new doctors.

Pharmacy Substituions: On March 20, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve an amended version of SB 51, which would provide for the substitution of interchangeable biological products by pharmacists and pharmacies.

SB 51 is intended to help consumers save money by allowing a pharmacist to give a patient a drug that is interchangeable with the patient's currently prescribed, and usually more expensive, biologic drug. As medical innovation continues to advance, more doctors are using complex drugs made from living organisms, called biologic medicines, to treat their patients with chronic diseases like arthritis and psoriasis.

By allowing physicians to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense "bio-similars," which are similar to a generic version of biologics, the cost of medication could potentially be reduced by up to 80 percent. Furthermore, to ensure patients have full disclosure and knowledge of the change, SB 51 requires the pharmacist to indicate the substitution on the original prescription and on its label. The bill also requires the pharmacist to notify the prescriber of this substitution within 48 hours so the doctor is aware of the changes made to the patient's treatment.

SB 51 now goes back to the Senate for consideration of changes to the legislation made by the House.

Civics Education: House members voted to adopt a resolution that urges the State Board of Education to develop and implement a comprehensive civics education curriculum to improve students' civic knowledge and skills.

As specified by HR 303, this education should teach students about their legal rights, as well as their responsibilities as law abiding citizens. Classroom discussions on current events, community service opportunities, and extracurricular activities could all be used as means for delivering the important civics lessons.

By approving HR 303, House members support the position that it is crucial for Georgia students to comprehend basic civics and understand how our government works. They are the future of our state and country.

Opportunity School District: Also last week, the House Education Committee heard public testimony on Senate-approved legislation to allow state intervention in local schools that consistently fail to meet performance standards.

An initiative of Gov. Nathan Deal, SR 287 would amend Georgia's Constitution to create an "Opportunity School District" to allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Because Opportunity School Districts have been implemented in other states across the nation, lawmakers have the advantage of learning about the program from teachers and school administrators that have experience with such schools.

The Education Committee members heard from some of those educators, and House members will strongly consider their statements as we continue to review SR 287 and its enabling legislation (SB 133) in the coming days.

As a constitutional amendment, SR 287 requires two-thirds approval by the Senate and the House to be placed on the ballot for voters' consideration in the next general election.

Unemployment Drops to 6.3%: Georgia's unemployment rate decreased slightly to 6.3 percent in February, its lowest point since July 2008. The state's jobless rate had been 6.4 percent in January and was 7.3 percent in February 2014.

According to Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, "We hit a historical high for jobs in Georgia this February, which helped push our unemployment rate down ... Our over-the-year job growth was the most we've had since the height of the Atlanta Summer Olympics in July 1996."

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