Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for Healthy Future said there are good provisions in the bill, but there are other things the bill didn’t address. “HB 769 nibbles around…
Georgia currently ranks 51st in children’s mental health services but an infusion of dollars into Georgia’s system of care is expected to have a positive impact around the state. Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Of that allotment, $4.3 million are dedicated to fund 13 additional grants for the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with behavioral health needs.
Nearly one in ten Georgia children ages 2 to 17 years have one or more diagnosed emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions and these conditions become more prevalent as children hit adolescence. Behavioral health issues can manifest in chronic absenteeism, classroom disruption, discipline issues, or other adverse behaviors at school, which can prevent young people from being academically successful.
To address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s students, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) launched the Georgia Apex Program in 2015 to “[create] partnerships between community-based mental health providers and local schools to provide school-based mental health services.” The three main goals of the Apex Program are:
- To increase access to mental health services for children and youth;
- To provide early detection of child and adolescent mental health needs; and
- To increase coordination between community-based mental health providers and the local schools and districts they serve.
The Apex Program places mental health providers in schools to provide services like screening, assessment, counseling and therapy, and referrals to community support services like youth club houses. The program began with 29 community health providers in 104 Georgia schools, and as of February 2018, the program had expanded to 320 schools. Over the first two years of the program, more than 5000 students who had not previously received mental health services were screened and provided with the appropriate services and supports for their needs.
More than three quarters (76%) of the schools served by the Apex Program are located in rural areas where behavioral health services are more limited, and almost half (46.6%) are located in elementary schools so that services are available to younger students, when behavioral health conditions are often less severe and more treatable.
In addition to increasing access to care for students in need, the program has demonstrated success by integrating into a variety of school settings and improving coordination and communication between providers and school staff. Further, providers are able to bill for 75-90% of the students served each month, indicating the model may be financially sustainable.
The Georgia Apex Program is a promising model that brings mental health care services to Georgia children, reducing barriers to health care and improving their chances for academic success.
To learn more about the Georgia Apex Program:
- Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Children, Young Adults and Families or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read the resources available at Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
- Watch the video below from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and see how the Georgia Apex Program is making a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Last week, Virginia became the latest state to expand health care coverage to low-income adults when the Virginia legislature voted to close the its coverage gap and Governor Northam signed the new budget. More than 400,000 Virginians are expected to gain coverage as a result, and the state anticipates declines in uncompensated care costs for hospitals, an increase in people receiving needed health services, and greater financial security for those set to gain coverage. The vote comes after years of advocacy and engagement from constituents and advocates who worked to convey to legislators the importance of health coverage and the impact the change would have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Unlike Virginians, 240,000 hard-working Georgians cannot yet look forward to putting a health insurance card in their pockets. These friends and neighbors make too little to get financial help to buy health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid in Georgia, leaving them stuck in the state’s coverage gap.
Georgia remains one of 17 states that is still refusing billions in federal health care dollars to provide health coverage to low-income adults in the state. As in Virginia, Georgia’s Governor and state legislature can choose to close the coverage gap at any time, and here are five reasons they should do so as soon as possible:
- Thousands of Georgians would gain health coverage–240,000 Georgians would gain the peace of mind, access to care, and financial protection that insured Georgians have. These Georgians make less than $12,140 a year or $20,780 for a family of three. Most are working in sectors like retail, child care, construction, and food service, low-paying jobs that do not come with benefits.
- Georgia’s rural hospitals are economic anchor institutions–rural communities need their hospitals to provide accessible healthcare, sustain well-paid jobs, and facilitate economic stability. Closing the coverage gap would create at least 12,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in new activity in Georgia’s rural communities each year.
- The resulting job growth is greater than what the state would gain by attracting Amazon’s HQ2–extending health coverage to more Georgians would create 56,000 new jobs across the state, more than the 50,000 jobs that Amazon is promising at its second headquarters. Even better, the new jobs would be scattered across the state rather than concentrated in and around Atlanta.
- Georgia’s tax dollars are currently sitting unused in Washington, D.C.–By refusing to extend health insurance to low-income Georgians, the state is missing out on $8 million per day ($3 billion dollars per year). Instead of giving up hard-earned tax dollars, Georgia’s policy makers could bring that money back to the state to help low-income parents, veterans, and workers put health insurance cards in their wallets.
- It is the biggest step Georgia can take to slow the substance use crisis —One quarter (25%) of Georgians who fall in the coverage gap are estimated to have a mental illness or substance use disorder. If they were covered by health insurance, treatment and recovery services would be within reach, allowing them to resume full, healthy lives. As a result, 36,000 fewer Georgians each year would experience symptoms of depression and the state could make significant progress in addressing its ongoing substance use crisis.
After five years of delay, Virginia’s leaders made the right decision and as a result, 400,000 Virginians will see healthier futures. Now is the time for Georgia’s decision makers to follow suite by putting 240,000 insurance cards in wallets all across the state.
Virginia State Capitol Image – Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography
Established in 2008 to provide a unified voice, vision, and leadership for Georgia health care consumers, particularly vulnerable and underserved populations, Georgians for a Healthy Future has provided substantive health policy information to community leaders and organizations, individual consumers, and advocates throughout the state; offered Georgians the tools and information they need to become empowered health care consumers and strong advocates; successfully injected the consumer perspective into hundreds of health care stories in the media; and engaged with policymakers to spark policy change for a healthier Georgia.
Our organization celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. Prompted by this milestone and the near-completion of a previous strategic plan, our leadership in 2016 launched a new strategic planning effort to chart a path forward for the next phase of our work. The process included an examination of the needs of Georgians with respect to health care and coverage, consideration of the federal and state public policy environments, engagement of organizational partners, stakeholders, and funders, scrutiny of GHF’s financial and non-financial resources, and input from the organization’s board of directors and staff.
The result is a new strategic plan that sets out what we must do to ensure continued progress towards GHF’s mission and vision and to secure the sustainability of our organization through another ten years. Success in these efforts will require the collective energy of all of GHF’s stakeholders—our board of directors and staff, coalition partners, donors, and Georgia consumers.
We are excited to share this plan with you. We hope that you will find inspiration within it to take an active role in helping us achieve the success we have envisioned.
Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted an educational forum titled Strong Foundations: Building a System of Care to Address the Behavioral Health Needs of Georgia Children on Tuesday, May 15. The forum explored the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. The event also raised awareness about Georgia’s system of care in an effort to improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth.
The event began with Respect Institute speaker Tammie Harrison, who shared her experiences navigating the behavioral health care system and getting to a place of recovery.
Because many of the event attendees were new to the topic of children’s behavioral health (BH), GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided some foundational information about the prevalence of children’s BH conditions, contributors to poor BH, and the pathways to BH care and supports for young Georgians. You can find Laura’s PowerPoint slides here. She also debuted GHF’s new behavioral health fact sheet.
Dante McKay, Director of the Office of Children, Young Adults, & Families at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provided attendees with an overview of DBHDD’s work, the 2017 System of Care state plan, and how the recently signed FY19 budget would impact the department’s ability to serve Georgia children and youth.
Dr. Erica Fener-Sitkoff, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children moderated a panel discussion of BH service providers, which included Wendy Farmer of Behavioral Health Link, Laura Lucas of Project LAUNCH (DBHDD), and Monica McGannon of CHRIS 180. The panelists discussed barriers to accessing BH services, which they said include continued stigma, lack of trained workforce, and transportation. The panel also identified innovative efforts, like Project LAUNCH and mobile crisis services, to bring BH services closer to consumers when and where they need it. When asked how Georgia’s next Governor could continue to make progress in the area of children’s behavioral health, panelists suggested a focus on workforce development, increasing access to community-based substance use treatment for teens, and prevention and early intervention.
If you missed the event, a recording of the webcast is available here.
To see photos, review materials, and read more about our Strong Foundations event, please visit the event page.
Valerie is a mother of three children living in Lamar County. Medicaid covers all three of Valerie’s children, and they rely on the health coverage it provides for their varying health needs. Valerie sometimes has difficulty accessing the care and information the family needs because they live in a rural area, but acknowledges that Medicaid is a lifeline that makes it possible for her to focus on her family’s other needs. Without health insurance through Medicaid, Valerie would have to pay hefty medical bills to ensure her children receive the care they require.
Susie is the sole caretaker of her young granddaughter, but she has a hard time caring for herself because she is stuck in Georgia’s coverage gap. She makes more than $6300 annually, so she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid coverage as a caregiver, and she doesn’t make enough to receive financial help to buy health insurance through the Marketplace. Susie is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but because she lacks health coverage, Susie is only able to receive cancer treatments from a doctor that allows her to make low monthly payments. Susie has other chronic health issues that need to be managed but finds it difficult to receive consistent care without insurance. Because Georgia’s elected officials have not extended Medicaid to cover caregivers like Susie, she struggles to care for herself while working to ensure her young granddaughter receives the care and support she needs to grow up healthy and thrive.
Medicaid provides access to needed health care services for low-income soon-to-be-moms, new mothers, and very low-income parents of minor children. For moms like Valerie, Medicaid makes being a mom a little easier by ensuring that their children have access to the health care services they need to grow and stay healthy. For others, Medicaid would help them get or stay healthy so they can best fulfill the responsibilities of being a mothers or caregivers. Over 150,000 uninsured women like Susie would gain health insurance if Georgia’s decision makers extended Medicaid to cover low-income adults (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three).
Despite several missed opportunities to address consumer health concerns during this year’s state legislative session, the FY2019 budget includes several impactful investments. Last week, Governor Nathan Deal traveled through Georgia and held budget signing ceremonies in Atlanta, Acworth, Blue Ridge, Statesboro, and Tifton for the $26 billion spending plan which will begin on July 1 of this year through June 30, 2019. The infusion of dollars into children’s mental health is especially noteworthy and exciting because of the impact it is expected to have across the state.
Governor Deal has recently made children’s behavioral health one of his top health care priorities and this year included in his proposed budget $20.6 million to fund recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. During its consideration of the state budget, he legislature ultimately increased the funding dedicated to these recommendations to $21.4 million.
These funded recommendations include behavioral health crisis services, supported employment and education for young adults with behavioral health needs, provider training and telehealth, and opioid abuse prevention for youth. Funding for suicide prevention will in part go towards expanding the capacity of GCAL, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, which provides 24/7 online and telephone support for people who are seeking services for developmental disabilities, mental health, or substance use issues. Some of the additional funding is also dedicated to the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with BH needs..
In the coming months, we will break down the Commission’s funded priorities and their impact on young Georgians. Look for our Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies blog mini-series.
Looking for more information on this topic? Georgians for a Healthy Future will be hosting an educational forum later this month during which we will explore the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. Join us in person or via webcast for this exciting and important event!
Travis suffered from a series of strokes when he was 11 years old that left him with several physical disabilities. He is one of the approximately 250,000 Georgians with disabilities to be covered by Medicaid.
Several years ago, Travis started volunteering with DisabilityLINK because he believes in the power of community and he likes being able to help others. Since then, he was hired as a Independent Living Specialist at the organization, where he connects people with disabilities to community-based resources and assists in coordinating various events at the DisabilityLINK office. He also works alongside other activists on issues such as housing, accessibility and self advocacy.
Travis recognizes that Medicaid is the reason he is able to financially support himself and work for an advocacy organization. Without the support Medicaid provides, Travis explains, he would not be able to help others the way he has been able to through his work at DisabilityLINK. When asked what he wanted others to know about him being able to receive affordable health insurance he replied, “With me working I am able to be a tax paying citizen.”
Medicaid is essential to ensuring that people with disabilities, like Travis, are able to lead fulfilling, independent lives as active participants in their communities. Georgia’s Medicaid program provides almost 2 million low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, pregnant women, and very low-income parents with access to the health care services that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Your story is powerful! Stories help to put a human face to health care issues in Georgia. When you share your story, you help others understand the issue, its impact on Georgia, and its importance.
Your health care story is valuable because the reader may be your neighbor, friend, someone in your congregation, or your legislator. It may inspire others to share their stories or to become advocates. It is an opportunity for individuals who receive Medicaid or fall into the coverage gap, their family members, their physicians and concerned Georgia citizens to show that there are real people with real needs who will be impacted by the health policy decisions made by Congress and Georgia’s state leaders.
Share your story here!
Georgians for a Healthy future partnered with Step Up Savannah to host a health advocacy training on Tuesday, April 3rd. Advocates learned how they could participate and lead health advocacy efforts in their own community and received information about pressing health advocacy issues in Georgia. Representatives from Healthy Savannah and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council were also in attendance to share local resources.
The significance of Medicaid was highlighted throughout the event. Participants learned that Medicaid primarily covers low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women, including 40,000 of Chatham County residents. Alyssa Green, GHF’s Outreach & Education Manager, discussed Georgia’s opportunity close the coverage gap so that 240,000 more Georgians would have access to health insurance coverage. Alyssa shared the story of a Georgia woman who works part-time at DisabilityLINK but is stuck in the coverage gap and, as a result, has trouble managing her high blood pressure.
GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert introduced ways that people can advocate for the health care issues that matter most to them, like increased access to healthcare, bringing down health care costs, and protecting the Medicaid program. She explained how to build a relationship with legislator, communicate support or opposition for significant bills, and other forms of advocacy.
The training concluded with presentations from the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and Healthy Savannah. The two Savannah-based organizations provided participants with information and resources to promote and build a healthy local community.
If you are interested in hosting a training like this in your community, please contact Alyssa Green at email@example.com or 404-567-5016 x 2 for more information.
Every day four Georgians die from opioid overdose and recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that the epidemic shows no signs of slowing. Health care providers, public health professionals, community leaders, and families are all searching for effective strategies to slow and stop this growing public health crisis. Some initial steps have been taken by Georgia policy makers and others to increase access to life-saving drugs like naloxone, improve and expand the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to prevent over-prescribing, and raise public awareness about the risks of opioids and other substances, but more is needed. Solutions must include evidence-based strategies that emphasize prevention and early intervention, as well as timely treatment and support for recovery.
An exciting development within Georgia’s Medicaid program gives health care providers an additional tool to aid in the fight against substance use disorders, especially among adolescents and young adults. Georgia’s Medicaid agency has activated the reimbursement codes for a tool called SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment. SBIRT is a set of tools that identifies people who use alcohol or other drugs at harmful levels and guides follow-up counseling and referral to treatment before serious long-term consequences occur.
Ninety percent of adults who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before they were 18 years old. Because Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids cover half of all Georgia children, the activation of the Medicaid reimbursement codes for SBIRT is a powerful opportunity to identify youth substance use and intervene early. Studies show that simply asking young people about drugs and alcohol use can lead to positive behavior changes and that brief interventions reduce the frequency and amount of alcohol or other drug use by adolescents.
This policy change was the product of a sustained advocacy effort by Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) and the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA). We anticipate it will lead to the screening of an estimated 145,000 Georgia youth annually and that 36,000 of those youth will present substance use behaviors that prompt a brief intervention with a health care provider. Initial data from Georgia’s Medicaid agency demonstrates that some providers are already making use of the SBIRT codes in their practices.
Notwithstanding these exciting results, we have committed to continue our efforts to improve access to screening, early intervention, and recovery services and supports for young people across Georgia. While the Medicaid reimbursement codes allow physicians, physician extenders, and advanced practice registered nurses to provide SBIRT services, we recognize that RNs, LPNs, licensed clinical social workers, and certified peer counselors can and should be able to provide SBIRT to youth and adults. Further, the codes allow SBIRT to be provided primarily in health care settings, but that excludes schools and other community-based settings where most young people spend their time.
We invite you to join our efforts to prevent substance use among young Georgians. Spread the word by giving our new fact sheet to the providers in your clinic, public health department, or hospital. If you are a health care provider, attend a training to develop the skills to implement SBIRT with the people that you care for. Join our on-going advocacy efforts to activate the reimbursement codes for more practitioner levels (including RNs and LPNs) and more settings by contacting us to let us know you are interested.
The opioid and substance use crisis that is sweeping Georgia and impacting communities nationwide will require a full spectrum of solutions that leverage the expertise of health care providers, public and private resources, and community and family supports. SBIRT is an evidence-based tool that can play a significant role in our collective efforts to reduce substance use and create a healthier Georgia for all of us.
To learn more, visit our Keeping Youth on a Healthy Path page.
For health care providers: download our new fact sheet here.