Partner Up! For Public Health Campaign Now Underway
On July 14th, a public awareness and advocacy campaign was launched to educate policymakers and the public about the vital role that our state’s public health system plays in prevention, food safety, halting the spread of infectious disease, and other key aspects of population health. After nearly a decade of funding cuts, Georgia’s per capita spending on public health is about four cents a day, among the lowest in the nation. Georgians for a Healthy Future is one of thirty organizations represented on the campaign’s advisory board. To learn more and to get involved, visit www.togetherwecandobetter.com.
Public Health Commission Begins its Work
The first meeting of the Public Health Commission was held on Monday, July 12th. As part of the legislation that reorganized the Department of Human Resources, a Public Health Commission was created to examine whether the interests of the state are best served with the Division of Public Health being a part of the Department of Community Health, an attached agency, a completely separate agency or a part of some other organization. The Georgia Public Health Association is monitoring the meetings and providing ongoing information about the Commission’s progress on its website. More information about the Commission and its members is also available on the Department of Community Health’s website. The Commission will meet once a month and meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for August 9th at 8:30am. The Commission’s report is due December 1, 2010.
What’s New in Georgia:
Budget Crisis Continues: Senators Still Need to Hear from Advocates
Governor Perdue has ordered Georgia agencies, with the exception of K-12 schools, to cut their budgets by another 4 percent starting in August. Georgia had been relying on Congress to pass an extension of the enhanced matching funds for Medicaid that the state was receiving as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as FMAP, when the Legislature and the Governor approved the FY 2011 budget. Those enhanced funds would have brought in about $375 million to the state. Without the enhanced FMAP, Georgia may have to make cuts to essential health care services for our most vulnerable families or cut reimbursement rates to providers, potentially limiting access to care and further harming our state’s fragile economy.
Please call Senator Isakson at (202) 224-3643 and Senator Chambliss at (202) 224-3521 and urge them to support an extension of the enhanced FMAP.
Special Tax Council Takes Aim at Changing Tax System
The first meeting of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness was held on Wednesday, July 28th. The Council was created by the Georgia Legislature to study the tax system and provide recommendations to the General Assembly in January 2011. The council will consider information from economists and from the public, according to remarks made at the initial meeting yesterday. The work of the council provides an opportunity for consumers and advocates to weigh in. As an alliance member of 2020 Georgia, Georgians for a Healthy Future supports a balanced approach to state budget and revenue solutions that can meet the short and long-term needs of our state and its people, including vital health services for Georgians. Information about the council can be found here.
The Battle for a Smokefree Savannah Heats Up!
The Savannah City Council has begun public discussion on the Healthy Savannah proposal to make all workplaces and places open to the public smoke-free. Council members plan two public meetings before the introduction and first reading on August 12. The proposed ordinance seeks to eliminate problematic exceptions in state law, and includes:
• All workplaces
• Outdoor eating areas in restaurants
• All Bars and Restaurants
• Long-term care facilities
• Private and semi-private rooms in health care facilities
• International airports
• Convention facilities
• Private clubs
• Retail tobacco stores
• Distances 15 to 20 feet from the entrance to any public building
The measure is supported by many health organizations under the umbrella of Healthy Savannah. Healthy Savannah is a great example of a community based health program. They address a myriad of issues that are barriers to a healthy lifestyle. The Mayor of Savannah, Otis Johnson, has endorsed the ordinance, saying it is an important step in protecting those who, like him, have heart conditions or other health risks aggravated by exposure to secondhand smoke.
If you know advocates in Savannah who would lend their support, please encourage them to contact the American Lung Association at email@example.com.
The Affordable Care Act and You:
84% of Small Businesses in Georgia Eligible for New Health Care Tax Credits
Beginning this year, as part of the new health care law, small businesses that employ 25 or fewer workers, have average wages of less than $50,000, and contribute at least 50 percent of each employee’s health insurance premium are eligible for a tax credit to help with the cost of employee health insurance premiums. The tax credits are worth up to 35 percent of the employer’s cost for employee coverage, and the amount of the tax credit depends on firm size and average wage, with the smallest, lowest-wage firms receive the largest tax credits.
In Georgia, more than 120,000 small businesses–or 84 percent of all small businesses operating in our state–are eligible for the tax credit in 2010, according to a study released last week by Families USA and the Small Business Majority. Further, about 37,500 small businesses in Georgia qualify for the full 35 percent tax credit. A tax credit calculator is available here, and detailed FAQs about how the tax credit works are available here. Read the full report here.
Non-Profit Hospitals and Their Roles in Communities
Until recently, neither federal nor state governments clearly laid out expectations for hospitals around charity care and the requirements for maintaining their non-profit status. As a consequence, it has been hard for patients to understand what services are available to them when they need care they cannot afford. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) clarifies the role of non-profit hospitals and their committment to the communities they serve. For more information on the specific provisions of the ACA, see the fact sheet created by national nonprofit organization Community Catalyst: Non-Profit Hospitals: Providing Essential Benefits to Local Communities.
The IRS issued a call for comments on these provisions, asking for input on the need for additional guidance to non-profit hospitals on how to fulfill the new requirements. Consumer advocates weighed in with many recommendations that included: 1) Setting standards for financial assistance policies that guarantee effective notification practices, fair and transparent application procedures, and eligibility criteria that reflect the needs of the hospital’s community; 2) Protecting consumers from harmful debt collection practices; 3) Clarifying what hospitals can charge their patients for care; and 4) Clarifying that hospitals must consult with consumer advocates and members of the communities they serve when conducting community needs assessments.
During the month of August, Georgia’s Congressional Delegation will be home for back in the state for their August Recess. So that the final rule ensures that you can depend on nonprofit hospitals to deliver the care you need on fair
terms, at an affordable price that is accessible to all, please contact your Congressman to make sure they are playing a leadership role to make health care more affordable for all Georgians. To stay updated on this issue, visit the Georgia Watch website.
New Rules Regarding Preventive Services Unveiled Last Week
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules relating to preventive care services. Under the new regulations, new health plans beginning on or after September 23, 2010, must cover preventive services that have proven evidence-based health benefits, and these plans may no longer charge a patient a co-payment, coinsurance or deductible for these services when they are delivered by a network provider. Services that will now be covered include: blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol tests; many cancer screenings; routine vaccinations; pre-natal care; and regular wellness visits for infants and children. For more detailed information about these new provisions, visit the HHS web portal to learn more.