“During a time when the administration is making numerous, often confusing changes to health insurance, more consumer assistance is needed, not less."-- Laura Colbert, Executive Director, Georgians for a Healthy Future
Last week saw a flurry of activity under the Gold Dome as legislators worked to move bills forward before a key deadline this week. Crossover Day, the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, is the day by which a bill must be passed from its originating chamber to the opposite chamber to remain viable. The deadline prompted legislative committees to take action on many bills last week so that they could be considered on the House and Senate floors ahead of this week’s cut-off. Two bills in particular caught our attention and warrant yours as well.
Bill would cut tobacco tax on “modified risk” tobacco products
Last week, the House Ways & Means committee approved HB 877, which would cut in half the tobacco tax on so-called “modified risk” tobacco products. Tobacco companies have been developing new products that they claim reduce the risk and harm of smoking and are working to gain the FDA’s approval later this year. Health advocates know that HB 877 is a bad bill because: 1) there is no data to quantify the claim of reduced risk; 2) the labeling of a product as “modified risk” may contribute to a false sense of safety and actually encourage tobacco use, particularly among minors: and 3) Georgia already has the second lowest tobacco tax in the country. HB 877 is now in the House Rules committee awaiting a vote by the full House.
Call your state representative!
Contact your state representative and ask them to vote “No” on HB 877! Tell them that Georgia should not lower the tax on any tobacco products and, instead, should consider implementing a new tax on e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices that are currently untaxed.
Comprehensive surprise billing legislation approved by Senate committee
SB 359, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, was approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee last week. This legislation addresses surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 5th legislative update.) The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor for a vote on Crossover Day, Wednesday, February 28th.
Contact your state senator!
Contact your state senator and ask them to vote “Yes” on SB 359! Tell them that too many Georgia consumers are receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills and that this legislation provides them with important, necessary protections.
What Happened Last Week
Expansion of rural hospital tax credit approved by House
HB 827 expands Georgia’s existing tax credit for donations to rural hospitals from 90% to 100%, making the program a dollar-for dollar match. Last year, this program brought about $10 million to rural hospitals across the state. While an expansion of this tax credit may provide some limited relief to rural hospitals, they would see much greater gains if Georgia’s legislature closed the state’s coverage gap by insuring all low-income Georgians, a point made on the House floor during the debate of this bill. The House passed HB 827 and it has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.
No hearing yet for legislation that would close Georgia’s coverage gap
With the legislative session more than halfway over, HB 669, which would expand Georgia’s Medicaid program to cover adults making less than $16,000 annually and parents making less than $21,000 for a family of three, has yet to earn a hearing. The bill sits in the House Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been brought up for consideration. HB 669 is the most significant step our state legislature could take towards addressing the opioid crisis, strengthening rural hospitals, and increasing access to care for thousands of hard-working Georgians. Ask your state legislator to request a hearing for this critical piece of legislation.
Bills impacting health care providers pass Senate HHS committee
The Senate HHS committee approved two bills this week that impact health care providers in Georgia. SB 325 aims to improve access to care by entering Georgia into the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also grants states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers. SB 351 would expand from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation is significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice. Both SB 325 and SB 351 await approval by the Senate Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full chamber.
On February 15th, the Cover Georgia coalition, including Georgians for a Healthy Future, hosted Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol in order to ask state law makers to close Georgia’s coverage gap by extending health insurance to low-income Georgians.
The event began at Atlanta City Hall where GHF welcomed participants including advocates, nurses, medical students and community members. During the morning welcome Representatives Sam Park and Kim Schofield spoke to participants encouraging them to continue working to close Georgia’s coverage gap and Rep. Park shared a personal account of how Medicaid helped to save his mother’s life. Following that, GHF provided a short briefing about the need to close Georgia’s coverage gap and how to be an effective advocate.
At the end of the morning session, participants joined more than 100 advocates from the American Cancer Society at the Georgia Capitol where participants lobbied “on the ropes”. When speaking with their legislators, advocates emphasized the urgency of the issue and the need for every person in Georgia to have health care coverage. They also provided state lawmakers with a new tool called An Insurance Card for Every Georgian.
After talking with their legislators, advocates attended a large press conference in the South Rotunda featuring Neil Campbell of Georgia Council on Substance Abuse; Dr. Mitzi Rubin, a family physician and leader at the Georgia Association of Family Physicians; and Andy Freeman of the American Cancer Society. Ms. Campbell pointed out that providing more Georgians with health insurance is the most significant step our state could take towards addressing the opioid crisis. Dr. Rubin described how a lack of access to health insurance impacts her patients and their health. Mr. Freeman discussed the dual benefits of increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax: 1) reduced numbers of people smoking; 2) the increase in revenue from a tobacco tax would provide more than enough funding to pay for health insurance for low-income Georgians.
Cover Georgia Day was incredibly successful due to the partnership of Cover Georgia coalition partners, health care providers, and grassroots advocates, all of whom are committed to closing Georgia’s coverage gap. Thanks to all who participated.
If you missed Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol, it’s not too late to contact your state legislators to ask them to put a health insurance card in the wallet of every Georgian. Take action today!
Legislative session is more than half-way complete
The state legislative session is more than half-way over already and the General Assembly has been working diligently to complete its constitutional responsibility to pass a state budget. Thus far the House and Senate have passed their versions of the amended FY2018 budget and are working to come to consensus on a final version. The House is still considering the FY2019 budget. Other bills prioritized by legislative leaders have made their way through the legislative process and await the Governor’s signature.
Action under the Gold Dome
GHF supports legislation that provides important consumer protections within private insurance
The first half of the legislative session has been punctuated by the introduction of many bills that would impact health care and coverage for Georgia consumers. Several of these bills stand out as they align with GHF’s policy priority of facilitating greater access to care and ensuring financial protections for consumers purchasing private insurance. For these reasons, GHF is actively supporting the following bills:
- SB 359–legislation to address surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more, see our February 5th legislative update.)
- HB 872–would allow consumers to receive services from their preferred provider at an in-network rate for the entire coverage year, if the insurer advertises the provider as being in-network at the time a consumer enrolls in a health insurance plan
- HB 873–would simplify the prior authorization process for providers and patients seeking access to restricted or expensive health services or medications and would clarify and improve the information that insurers must provide to consumers about their prescription drug coverage (Re-visit last week’s legislative update for more information about HB 872 and 873.)
Rural health care bill moves forward
One of the legislature’s biggest efforts in 2017 was the work of the House Rural Development Council which, among other things, studied barriers to health care and possible solutions in Georgia’s rural communities. The result of their studies is HB 769 which creates a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The Center would be responsible for collecting data from the health-focused state agencies and analyzing it for planning purposes, similar to the Health System Innovation Center proposed within SB 357. The bill would also make some changes to the state’s certificate of need program to make allowances for “micro-hospitals”, provides for an insurance premium assistance program for rural physicians, and increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100% of the donation.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved HB 769 last week and it must be advanced by the House Rules Committee for consideration by the full chamber.
Surprise billing legislation gets more attention
All three bills introduced to address surprise out of network medical billing will receive the attention of the General Assembly this session. HB 678 was passed by the House last Monday and has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee for its consideration. That committee plans to take up another piece of surprise billing legislation–SB 359, which provides the most comprehensive protections to consumers of the three bills–in its hearing today. HB 799, a bill that primarily addresses out of network care in emergency situations, is similarly scheduled for a hearing today by the House Insurance Committee.
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
As the activity in the General Assembly picks up speed in the second half of this year’s session, it can be hard to keep up. We have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.
Pair of consumer protection bills introduced in House
Two bills that propose stronger protections for consumers in health insurance were introduced last week by a group of House lawmakers led by Representative David Knight. We are encouraged by the introduction of both bills which aim to provide consumers with increased transparency and enhanced financial protections, along with heightened accountability on the part of health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. We will monitor and weigh in on the bills as they progress through the legislative process.
HB 872: Provider network transparency
HB 872 requires insurance companies to be more transparent about the structure of and changes within their provider networks, beginning with a provision that requires insurers to make publicly available a plain language description of their provider network standards on their website among other provisions. Importantly, the bill also stipulates that if an insurer advertises a physician as being in a plan’s provider network as a consumer enrolls in an insurance plan, the insurer is required to cover the health care services received from that provider at an in-network rate during the entire contract year. That means that a consumer may select a plan during open enrollment that includes their preferred provider and would be able to receive services at an in-network rate for the entire plan year regardless of changes to the provider’s participation status.
HB 873: Prescription drug formulary & prior authorization transparency
HB 873, titled the Prescription Drug Benefits Freedom of Information and Consumer Protection Act, proposes to improve the consistency and clarity of prescription drug formularies and prior authorization processes. The bill requires that insurers provide an easy-to-find, accurate, and updated formulary list on their website and requires the Insurance Commissioner to create rules about the format and information within the formulary so that consumers can more easily understand what prescriptions are covered under their insurance plan, the cost-sharing associated with the drug, and any prior authorization required to gain access to the prescription. The legislation also requires that a single, standard prior authorization form be developed that would apply to all insurers and pharmacy benefit managers regulated in Georgia to allow consumers and providers to more easily request access to higher cost and more restricted health services and prescriptions. The standard form would be developed by an advisory committee made up of an equal number of consumers, physicians, pharmacists, insurers, insurance agents, and pharmacy benefit managers.
Both chambers busy with health care legislation
House Insurance Committee approves HB 678
The House Insurance Committee, chaired by Representative Richard Smith, considered and approved HB 678 last week. The bill improves transparency for consumers by outlining the information that must be provided to consumers by health care providers and insurers about the consumer’s provider network. HB 678 is expected to receive a vote by the full House today. (For a more detailed summary of HB 678, check out last week’s legislative update.)
Senate approves SB 352 and SB 357
Two pieces of legislation resulting from the Health Care Reform Task Force were approved by the Senate this week. Both SB 352, which establishes the Commission on Substance Abuse and Recovery and creates a director position to lead the commission, and SB 357, which establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council among other actions, received strong support from legislators. The bills will now move to the House for its consideration. (For more information on both bills, read the January 29th legislative update.)
Surprise medical billing emerges as prominent issue at the Capitol
Surprise out-of-network medical billing is emerging as a prominent issue within the Georgia General Assembly. A surprise medical bill can occur when a consumer encounters an out-of-network (OON) provider at an in-network facility or in other circumstances. Three pieces of legislation have been introduced to address surprise billing and each attempts to resolve the issue in its own way. In this week’s legislative update, we will provide a broad look at each bill and its provisions. (If you would like more information about any of the bills, click on the provided links to read the full legislation.) All three bills seek to protect patients, and we will monitor and weigh in on the bills as they undergo the inevitable amendment process in committee. We appreciate all of the bill sponsors for remaining vigilant towards protecting patients from unexpected medical bills.
HB 678: Increased network and billing transparency by health care providers and insurers
HB 678 is sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, and has the backing of several powerful House lawmakers. The bill improves transparency for consumers by outlining the information that must be provided to consumers by health care providers and practices and by insurers. Providers must inform consumers about their participation in the patient’s insurance network and about how to check the network status of other providers with which the primary provider has coordinated services (e.g. laboratory or radiology services). It also requires insurers to provide consumers with information about when and how to receive approval for services from an out of network provider. Insurers must also communicate to a consumer ahead of a planned procedure if the provider is out of network (OON), and if so, the estimated amount the insurer will cover for the OON services. Lastly, HB 678 provides consumers with 90 days from the time of receiving a medical bill to pay the bill, negotiate payment or initiate arbitration through the Georgia Department of Insurance. After that time period, providers would be allowed to initiate collection proceedings to secure their payment.
HB 799: Out of network care in emergency situations
While HB 678 applies only to non-emergency situations, HB 799 applies solely to emergency care and medically necessary follow-up care. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, Chairperson of the House Health & Human Services Committee, disallows managed care plans from denying payment for emergency services and disallows hospitals from billing patients for medically necessary care following an emergency situation except for their standard co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. For a patient receiving emergency care at an OON hospital and who is covered by a plan that requires prior authorization for post-stabilization care, the legislation outlines how the OON hospital and insurer must coordinate the patient’s transfer to an in-network facility and defines which entities are responsible for specific costs. Under this bill, if a patient (or their representative) does not consent to be transferred to an in-network hospital, the OON hospital must provide verbal notice to the patient that they may be financially responsible for any further post-stabilization care provided.
SB 359: Consumer Coverage & Out of Network Medical Care Act
SB 359 is the only Senate-side legislation introduced thus far to address surprise out-of-network billing and is sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, Chairman of the Senate Finance and member of HHS committees. The legislation contains many of the same transparency provisions for non-emergency care as HB 678 with regard to information that health care providers and hospitals must supply to consumers, but provides for more robust disclosure by insurers to consumers about possible OON costs. It also contains provisions similar to that of HB 799 with respect to emergency situations, but goes farther to stipulate that insurers must treat OON emergency care as if it were in-network by applying a consumer’s cost-sharing towards their in-network deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. The legislation also makes mediation available to consumers who receive elective medical care during which an unexpected event arises resulting in surprise bill greater than $1000. SB 359 is expected to be more controversial than the other two bills because it sets a payment resolution process that sank previous legislative attempts.
RSVP today for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol!
Join us next Thursday, February 15th for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol when we will ask our state legislators to close Georgia’s coverage gap by putting insurance cards in the pockets of low-income Georgians. This is the most important step that our elected officials can take to slow the growing opioid crisis, strengthen our state’s struggling rural health care system, and improve the health & finances of hard-working, low-income Georgia families. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk with your elected officials about closing Georgia’s coverage gap! RSVP today!
Can’t make it? Send an email to your state legislators asking them to put an insurance card in the pockets of all low-income Georgians.
Legislation prioritized by Senate leaders approved by HHS Committee
At Thursday’s Senate Health & Human Services Committee, the two pieces of legislation resulting from the Health Care Reform Task Force were considered. Both SB 357 and SB 352 received strong support from legislators and stakeholders. GHF’s partners at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and Mental Health America of Georgia rose in support of SB 352, which would create a 15-member Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery supported by a director. Both bills were passed by unanimous voice votes. You can find a description of both bills in last week’s legislative update blog.
Nilofer Chollampat is GHF’s Legislative Advocacy Intern for the spring 2018 semester. In this role, Nilofer will help to monitor the activity of legislative committees, the status of relevant bills, and other legislative activity. Nilofer will also support the Cover Georgia coalition in their advocacy to expand Medicaid in Georgia as well as other legislative and advocacy-related projects.
Nilofer isin her second year at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology and Statistics from UC Davis. She’ll be graduating in May with a degree in Health Policy and Management. Nilofer came to GHF after working on academic research, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and a practicum with a non-profit research organization. Other than her love of health policy work, Nilofer likes to watch all the TV shows.
GHF welcomes Alyssa Green as the organization’s new Outreach & Education Manager. In this role, Alyssa will work with consumers and communities to hear about their experiences with health care and coverage, educate them about how health policy impacts their lives, and provide tools and resources to help them engage in the health policy-making process. Alyssa will also provide strategic direction for GHF’s outreach campaigns in support of policy change and assist in GHF’s coalition building efforts.
Alyssa is a recent graduate of UGA’s Master’s in Public Administration program. She has extensive experience in advocacy, program management, and person-centered approaches to community building. Before joining the GHF team, Alyssa led capacity building efforts for an Atlanta-based research study on trans risk and resilience. In addition to this, she coordinated food and fund campaigns at the Georgia Food Bank Association.
We are pleased that Alyssa has joined our team! You can contact Alyssa at email@example.com or 404-567-5016 ext 2.
Today, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) named its 37 consumer liaison representatives for 2018, including GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert. The 22 funded and 15 unfunded consumer representatives began their terms Jan. 1.
Established in 1992, the Consumer Liaison Program promotes consumer interaction with the NAIC’s members, the insurance industry and interested parties through the individuals’ dedication and commitment to serving the public interest.
“Our consumer liaison representatives are experts in their fields and we rely on them to provide our regulators with direction and support,” said Julie Mix McPeak, NAIC President and Tennessee Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance. “Their contributions help protect consumers, which is always one of our top priorities.”
“I am excited for this opportunity to represent Georgia consumers in a new way,” said Colbert. “The NAIC Consumer Liaison Program plays an important role in promoting consumer-first public policy among the nation’s Insurance Commissioners and other stakeholders. I look forward to my work with the other consumer representatives and with the broader NAIC.”
You can find the NAIC’s full press release here.
New legislation would establish proposed Health Coordination and Innovation Council
Last week, the first legislation to result from the Lieutenant Governor’s Health Care Reform Task Force was introduced. SB 357, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, would establish the Health Coordination and Innovation Council, the Health System Innovation Center, and an advisory board to the Council.
Health Coordination & Innovation Council
According to the Task Force’s final report, the Health Coordination and Innovation Council (aka “the Council”) will act as a permanent statewide coordinating platform, bringing together all of health care’s major stakeholders. As the legislation is currently written the Council will be made up of 13 members including the director of health policy & strategic planning, the Commissioners of the Departments of Community Health, Public Health, Human Services, and Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and eight members to be appointed by the Governor representing Georgia’s medical schools and academia and private health care sector. A consumer representative is not explicitly written into the bill text at this time.
Health System Innovation Center
The Health System Innovation Center is proposed as a research organization that utilizes academic, public health policy, data, and workforce resources to develop new approaches for financing and delivering health care in Georgia. The structure of the Center is not outlined in the legislation, but it is clear that its initial charge will be to synthesize existing studies and data to inform a strategic plan to improve access to health care in rural Georgia. The Center’s work will inform the Council.
We expect more legislation and proposals may emerge from the Health Care Reform Task Force in the coming days. As these proposals emerge, we will continue to keep you updated.
Legislation establishes Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery
Senator Renee Unterman continues to spearhead efforts to address the opioid and substance use crisis in Georgia and last week, she introduced SB 352 which, among other things, establishes a Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery. The Commission is to be headed by the director of Substance Abuse & Recovery and will serve as chair of the 15-member commission, including two representatives from the advocacy community. The Commission is charged with coordinating data among relevant government entities; informing strategies to combat the opioid crisis within the Departments of Public Health and Education, the Attorney General’s Office, and other state entities; consulting with the Governor’s office on a potential Medicaid waiver related to opioid abuse; and developing and informing other efforts to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services across the state.
Come to the state Capitol on February 15th!
Join us on Thursday, February 15th for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol when we will ask our state legislators to close Georgia’s coverage gap by putting insurance cards in the pockets of low-income Georgians. This is the most important step that our elected officials can take to slow the growing opioid crisis, strengthen our state’s struggling rural health care system, and improve the health & finances of hard-working, low-income Georgia families. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk with your elected officials about closing Georgia’s coverage gap! RSVP today!
Can’t make it? Send an email to your state legislators asking them to put an insurance card in the pockets of all low-income Georgians.
House continues to consider state budget bills
The Georgia House of Representatives continues its consideration of both the “little” and “big” budgets this week. HB 683, the FY2018 supplementary budget (also called the “little budget”), makes necessary, mid-year adjustments to the current state budget. The Governor’s proposed amended FY2018 budget provides an extra $5 million to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission from increased Super Speeder collections, but includes few other health care-related changes. The House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees spent much of last week in budget hearings regarding the FY 2019 budget. The House’s consideration of the “big budget” will accelerate when they pass the FY2018 supplementary budget to the Senate for its consideration
The Legislature plans to finish work by March 29th
The schedule for the remainder of the legislative session has been set. Crossover Day, the day that legislation must move from one chamber to the other in order to be considered in 2018, will fall on February 28. The legislature will be in session Monday through Thursday each week until Crossover Day. The remaining 12 legislative days will be broken up throughout March, culminating on Sine Die, the last day of the session, on March 29th. The full calendar can be accessed here.
Consumer transparency bill introduced in the House
Rep. Richard Smith, Chair of the House Insurance Committee, introduced HB 678, legislation that requires health care providers and hospitals to provide consumers with information about their participation in a patient’s insurance network. The bill requires that a physician tell a patient if they are an in-network provider, and, if asked by the patient, provide an estimate of the total costs for their services. The legislation applies only to non-emergency care. While this bill is a first step towards addressing surprise out-of-network medical billing, we believe that, as written, it does not do enough to protect consumers. We recognize Rep. Smith’s commitment to shielding consumers from surprise medical bills, and we hope that this bill will prompt a robust conversation about solutions that address both network adequacy and surprise medical bills.
Join us for Cover Georgia Day!
Please join us at the state Capitol on Thursday, February 15 from 8:30 to 11:45 am for Cover Georgia Day! We will be asking our state legislators to put insurance cards in the pockets of low-income Georgians who cannot get affordable health coverage under current law. This is your opportunity to speak to your elected officials and let them know that you support closing Georgia’s coverage gap. RSVP here!
Can’t make it? Send an email to your state legislators to tell them to close Georgia’s coverage gap.
Budget hearings continue at the Capitol
Last week, the General Assembly heard from Commissioners and other leaders regarding their budget requests for Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019). While the Governor’s proposed budget is mostly status quo, there are a few items of interest for health advocates:
- The Department of Community Health has requested a 4% increase (for a total of $236 million) in funds for Medicaid to keep up with the population growth of Medicaid-eligible Georgians.
- The Department of Public Health (DPH) has requested $627,000 to support the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which was moved from the Georgia Drug & Narcotics Agency to DPH per 2017 legislation.
- DPH has also requested $355,000 to support a new Office of Cardiac Care.
- The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has requested a budget increase of $50 million. (See last week’s update for more details about DBHDD’s budget increase.)
Children’s Health Insurance Program finally funded
Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (known as PeachCare for Kids in Georgia) expired at the end of September last year and remained unfunded for 114 days until yesterday evening when Congress passed a six-year extension for the program. PeachCare for Kids covers more than 130,000 Georgia children and, in combination with Medicaid, has been critical in driving our children’s uninsured rate down to 6.7%. The funding authorized by Congress will allow this critical health insurance program to continue to serve Georgia’s children for several more years. The future of funding for community health centers and Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments is still unclear.