“We are very concerned about how this may impact Georgia’s Medicaid program,” said Laura Colbert, the executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “When we talk about cutting Medicaid…
Blog (January 2018)
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s eighth annual Health Care Unscrambled breakfast built on previous years’ successes with another standing room-only crowd. This year’s legislative panelists were:
Each panelist provided updates on emerging health care trends impacting Georgia and took questions from the audience about what healthcare initiatives are likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative session. Topics included Medicaid expansion, federal funding of PeachCare for Kids (CHIP), surprise out of network medical billing, access to mental health and substance use treatment services, network adequacy, hospital closures, scope of practice for non-physician providers, Certificate of Need reform, maternal and infant mortality, rural health care access, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), federal health care reform, the opioid epidemic and homelessness.
Senator Unterman, Chairwoman of the Senate HHS Committee, led the conversation with updates of the findings and recommendations from the myriad study committees she chaired or established in the 2017 off-session including the Senate Study Committees on Homelessness, Georgians Barriers toAdequate Access to Healthcare, as well as her participation on Lt. Gov. Cagle’s Health Care Reform Task Force. New Minority Leader Bob Trammell, along with Representative Sam Park, announced their intention to introduce legislation to expand Medicaid in Georgia (which has now been filed as House Bill 669) and Rep. Mark Newton, an Augusta area ER physician and Senator Elena Parent, Deputy Whip in the Senate Minority Caucus both elaborated on the Medicaid expansion debate, mental health issues facing the state, the opioid epidemic and rural health care access.
This year’s key note speaker was Robin Rudowitz, Associate Director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Ms. Rudowitz provided some background information on the federal Medicaid program, as well as Georgia’s program specifically. She pointed out that children are the primary beneficiaries in Georgia’s Medicaid program followed by people with disabilities, pregnant women, and seniors respectively. Georgia’s Medicaid program does not cover adults making less than 138% of the federal poverty level (about $16,000 per year for an individual and $21,000 for a family of 3) because Georgia’s policymakers have thus far refused to extend health coverage to this population. There was an extended discussion by Ms. Rudowitz and audience members about the new flexibility offered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to state Medicaid programs may impact children and other enrollees, as well as how it may change existing Medicaid expansion programs in other states, This information presented by Ms. Rudowitz and subsequent discussion are sure to inform the considerations around the future of Georgia’s Medicaid program. Ms. Rudowitz’s presentation can be accessed here.
To see photos, review materials, and get more information about this year’s Health Care Unscrambled event, please visit the event page.
The 2018 legislative session has begun
The Georgia General Assembly has convened at the state capitol for its annual 40-day legislative session. This year’s session is expected to be quick as legislators prepare for primary elections in May and this fall’s general election. While the legislature is only constitutionally required to pass a state budget, we expect that a number of critical consumer health care topics will be debated. GHF will be monitoring this activity and will keep you up-to-date with weekly legislative updates (like this one!), our legislation tracker, timely analysis of legislation, and more.
The State Budget
On Thursday, Governor Deal addressed the General Assembly in his annual State of the State address and, per tradition, used the opportunity to introduce his proposed budget. The Governor minimally mentioned health care in his address, only highlighting the Commission on Children’s Mental Health. The inclusion of $20.6 million to fund the Commission’s recommendations made up the most significant health care-related change in the Governor’s proposed budget. This money will go to fund behavioral health crisis services ($10.4 million), a school-based mental health initiative called Project Apex ($4.3 million), supported employment and education ($3 million), suicide prevention ($1.1 million), provider training and telehealth ($1 million), and opioid abuse prevention ($790,000). The budget will now go to the House for its consideration before passing to the Senate.
HB 669: Medicaid Expansion
New House Minority Leader (and Health Care Unscrambled panelist) Bob Trammell introduced HB 669 requiring Georgia to authorize state dollars to drawn down additional federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid (or through a tailored Georgia-specific 1115 Medicaid waiver) would be the most significant step Georgia’s law makers can take to strengthen the state’s weakening rural health care system, address the opioid and substance use epidemic, and provide all Georgians with an insurance card regardless of income. Contact your legislators and let them know that you support closing Georgia’s coverage gap and they should too. Save the date. February 15th is Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol. Make plans to attend! Stay tuned for an official event announcement and RSVP link soon.
The Legislative Calendar
The schedule for the first eleven days of the 2018 legislative session was set on Monday, January 8. The General Assembly has already worked four days of the constitutionally capped 40-day session (January 8 through January 11). Tuesday, January 16 and Wednesday, January 17 are slated for budget hearings, and the next seven legislative days are as follows:
- January 18: Legislative Day 5
- January 19: Legislative Day 6
- January 22: Legislative Day 7
- January 23: Legislative Day 8
- January 24: Legislative Day 9
- January 25: Legislative Day 10
- January 29: Legislative Day 11
Georgians for a Healthy Future released its 2018 policy priorities at this morning’s eighth annual Health Care Unscrambled legislative breakfast. These annual priorities outline the issues that GHF believes are most pressing for Georgia consumers and are best addressed by the state legislature. GHF will work to move all of these issues forward by engaging state policy makers, consumers, and coalition partners throughout the legislative session and the remainder of the year.
- Increase the number of Georgians with health insurance. Thousands of Georgians have signed up for low-cost coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Because Georgia has not accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians though, approximately 300,000 people remain stuck in a coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports closing this gap by opening up coverage through Medicaid to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
- Guarantee access to quality health care services for Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries. The Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs provide health insurance for many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income children, seniors and people with disabilities, and some low-income parents. Enrollment in these programs is growing as uninsured families explore health insurance options and that their children meet the eligibility criteria. This presents an opportunity to reduce our state’s uninsured rate and improve access to care. Georgians for a Healthy Future will support policies that facilitate continuous coverage and enrollment for eligible Georgians, ensure robust provider networks, and improve health outcomes. Georgians for a Healthy Future will oppose changes to Medicaid that would shift financial risk and cost to states and result in program cuts that would harm many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
- Ensure access to care and financial protections for consumers purchasing private health insurance. Health insurance plans with the lowest premiums are often a first choice for consumers, but these plans are commonly more a affordable because of narrow provider networks. Although narrow networks can hold down the cost of health insurance and may provide adequate care, they can result in insufficient coverage for some conditions, inhibit continuity of care for some consumers, and lead to burdensome surprise medical bills if consumers unknowingly receive services from out-of-network providers. We encourage Georgia’s policymakers to address network adequacy and surprise out-of-network billing in tandem by developing a comprehensive network adequacy standard, based on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) model act released in the fall of 2015 and by passing legislation that protects consumers from surprise out-of-network billing by placing limits on allowable out-of-network charges, setting disclosure and transparency requirements for health care providers, and establishing a process to resolve billing disputes between patients, providers, and health care facilities.
- Set and enforce standards that provide for equitable coverage of mental health and substance use treatment services by health plans. The 2008 passage of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act) required that health plans cover behavioral health services as they would physical health services. The Parity Act is only meaningful if health plans are implementing it well, consumers and providers understand how it works, and there is appropriate oversight. GHF supports legislation that sets standards and oversight procedures to ensure that Georgia consumers receive the coverage for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to which they are entitled by law and for which they have paid.
- Support partners in integrating health and equity in the policies across every sector to address social determinants of health that prevent equitable access to care and equitable health status. Factors outside the health system such as adequate housing, education, and economic opportunity impact the health of individuals, families, and communities. Left unaddressed, these and other complicating factors can inhibit the effectiveness of approaches that are strictly within the health system. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that aim to advance health and health equity by addressing the social determinants of health.
To download GHF’s 2018 policy priorities, click here.