#ProtectOurCare during February’s Congressional recess

As the health care debate ramped up in Washington, February’s Congressional recess presented opportunities for Georgia’s health care advocates to voice their concerns about plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. GHF participated in two events that highlighted the progress that has been made in Georgia under the ACA and the need to build on its successes rather than repeal it. 

 

The week began with a rally as the Save My Care bus tour stopped at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia Capitol.  House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams energized the crowed and spoke of the importance of health care for every Georgian. GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin reminded the audience that because of the ACA the uninsured rate in the US is lower than it has ever been before and that new consumer protections provided to Georgians with pre-existing conditions, LGBT Georgians, and low-income families helped to narrow disparities in health care access. Georgia consumers Jan and Vicki shared their stories of how the ACA has helped them access the health care they needed when they needed it. You can watch the full rally here.

 

On Saturday, GHF marched at the Atlanta March for Healthcare organized by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice. Marchers traveled down Peachtree Street from Midtown to downtown’s Woodruff Park where a rally was held. Along with partner organizations active on health care issues, Cindy reminded those at the rally of how much progress had resulted from the ACA and how interconnected health care is to other social justice issues like racial, gender, and economic equality.

 

GHF will continue to work to #ProtectOurCare as Congress attempts to pass the American Health Care Act, a proposal that attempts to cut and cap Medicaid and increase costs for low-income families and older Georgians. We hope you’ll join us to rally, march, call, and organize for affordable, accessible, high quality health care for all Georgians.


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Advice for new advocates at the Capitol

The November elections have energized people of all political leanings to get more involved in advocacy, and many are doing so for the first time. Learning how each level of government works and how to effectively advocate for your interests can be difficult. GHF’s legislative health policy intern, Hayley Hamilton, has learned the ropes at Georgia’s Capitol and has some advice for people who are new to the Gold Dome:

Walking into the Gold Dome for the first time can be intimidating. Once you pass through the metal detectors and show your ID to the state trooper on duty, you find a sea of people all of whom seem to know each other. If you feel a bit overwhelmed walking in, know that you are not alone, but it gets easier with practice. The Capitol is a congenial place and you will find that everyone is happy to talk to you.

There is a rhythm of
daily events at the Capitol and each part of the days present a different opportunity for you to interact with your legislators. The chambers (House of Representatives and Senate) meet in the mornings to vote on bills and take care of other business. This part of the day is your best opportunity to speak with your legislator. If you want to meet with your legislator “on the ropes” (called this because of the red velvet rope line outside of each chamber) you fill out a short slip of paper outside the House or Senate to let your legislator know that you would like to speak with them. A page (usually a middle school aged student) will deliver the note inside the chamber, and if available, your legislator will come out to speak with you. When you speak to your legislator, it’s important to remember that they are representing you and your community, but they are also short on time. Be compelling and brief with what you have to say, but don’t underestimate the power of your story.

After the morning session, the House and Senate break for lunch and caucus meetings, and attend committee meetings in the afternoon. If you are unable to meet your legislator on the ropes, this is a good time to track them down for a quick chat in their office or catch them before or after a committee meeting. You can find your legislators’ office location, phone number, and email in our Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide. (An in-person visit is best, but a phone call is the next most effective method of sharing your thoughts and concerns with your legislators.) If you can’t nail them down for a short conversation in their office, meeting with their staff is a great second option. Tell the staff what you want your legislator to hear and then offer to follow up with the legislator via email.

Your legislator may be in committee meetings for much of the afternoon. These meetings are open to the public, and you can find committee schedules, locations, and agendas on the websites for the House and Senate respectively. During committee meetings, legislators will hear testimony and vote on bills. You may want to sign up to testify for a bill, just observe a meeting, or speak with a legislator before or after a meeting about a bill on the meeting agenda.

The old cliché of “practice makes perfect” applies to the Georgia’s Capitol and legislative session. The more you are at the Capitol or the more you contact your legislators, the easier it gets. Plus, GHF is here to help with our legislation tracker and weekly legislative updates during the session.

 –Hayley Hamilton

   MPH Candidate, 2017

   Georgia State University


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Now is the time to #ProtectOurCare

Be a part of the movement to #ProtectOurCare! Georgia’s members of Congress are back home this week, and we want to show them that health matters to Georgians. Tomorrow, we’ll say that loud and clear with a rally hosted by the Save My Care bus tour. The bus has been touring the country to hear about why health matters to people like you and to tell Congress to save our health care! Join GHF, the Save My Care team, Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and others to tell Congress to #ProtectOurCare! 


If you can’t be at the rally, we still have you covered!

Connect with your members of Congress

One of the best ways for you to tell your members of Congress to #ProtectOurCare is to speak directly with them or their staff. This week contains several opportunities to meet your elected officials and their teams in person. Click here to see if your members of Congress are hosting an event in your area. Can’t make it to the events or your members of Congress aren’t hosting any? You can call (or email) their offices to share your thoughts. Click here for a list of phone numbers and a suggested script if you don’t quite know what to say.

Don’t know who your members of Congress are? Click here to find out. (Your members of Congress are listed in the second row on the page.)


Share your story with us

Stories from people like you who have benefited from the ACA or Medicaid are incredibly powerful! When you share your story, it helps others understand how a policy might impact their family or friends, and why its important. Your story can help shape the conversation about health care access in Georgia. Let us know if you have coverage through the ACA Marketplace or Medicaid. We want to hear from you!


Join the conversation

It’s more important than ever that Georgians have the facts and information that they need to form smart opinions on policies that will impact their health care. Join us on Twitter and Facebook this week. We will be talking about how the ACA and Medicaid have impacted Georgia, and what is at stake in the proposed plans to roll back health care access in our state. Get started by signing our petition to #ProtectOurCare and sharing it with your social media networks!


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Legislative Update: Feb. 6

Hearing on surprise billing legislation scheduled for tomorrow 

SB 8, which seeks to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills, is scheduled to receive a hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services committee on Tuesday at 2 pm. SB 8 would establish a standard payment structure for physicians seeking reimbursement for surprise out-of-network services, and would hold consumers harmless in surprise billing situations. HB 71, the companion bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, is expected to be assigned to a sub committee of the House Insurance committee on Tuesday at 8 am.

You can help!

If you have received a surprise out-of-network medical bill, share your story with our partners at Georgia Watch. Consumer stories help illustrate to legislators why legislation is needed to help protect consumers like you. Click here to share your story!


What Happened Last Week

Senate passes provider fee renewal

On Thursday the Senate passed SB 70 which renews the provider fee (also called the “bed tax”) for another three years in order to fund Georgia’s Medicaid program. This allows the Department of Community Health to collect the 1.45% tax on hospital revenues in order to draw down federal Medicaid dollars. These additional dollars are disproportionately used to support rural and safety net hospitals who serve high numbers of indigent patients. The bill will now move to the House where it expects an easy passage.


“Expand Medicaid NOW Act” reintroduced

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams introduced HB 188, the Expand Medicaid NOW Act, last week. While we do not expect this bill to gain much traction because of the evolving health reform efforts at the federal level, it calls attention to the need to provide health care coverage to the 300,000 Georgians who are stuck in our state’s coverage gap because they do not currently qualify for Medicaid and cannot access health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.


Oral health legislation moves forward

Both HB 154 and SB 12, bills that allow dental hygienists to provide cleanings and other specified services in schools, safety net clinics, nursing homes, and private dentists’ practices under “general supervision”, received committee hearings and votes last week. Both bills will move to their Chambers’ respective Rules Committees to be approved for floor votes by the House and Senate.


Debate over opioid abuse prevention bill 

SB 81 received its first hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services committee last week. The bill seeks to address the growing opioid abuse epidemic in Georgia in a number of ways, including: 1) Extending the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database of prescriptions written for certain narcotics and requiring physicians to consult this registry prior to prescribing under certain conditions; 2) Codifying the Governor’s emergency order increasing the availability of anti-overdose drug, Naloxone; 3) Requiring the tracking and reporting of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; and 4) Establishing penalties for providers who are not in compliance with drug prescription reporting requirements. While few dispute the need to address this issue, the scope of drug and drug classes that the bill covers, along with the severity of the penalty that physicians may be subject to for violating the law are currently points of contention. No vote was taken in Thursday’s committee hearing, but suggested changes were made and the bill is expected to be back before the same committee later this week.


Resources for you

Georgians for a Healthy Future has tools you can use to track and understand the Georgia legislative session. Stay up-to-date on the bills that matter to you with our legislation tracker and sign up for Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) action alerts so you know when to engage.

Get Your 2017 Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide!

GHF’s annual Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide is your map for navigating the Georgia legislative session. The Guide provides information on the legislative process, and contact information for legislators, key agency officials, and health advocates. This year, we’ve added a glossary of terms to help you understand what is happening under the Gold Dome. This tool will help advocates, volunteers, and consumers navigate the 2017 Georgia General Assembly.  Download your copy here.


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2017 Advocate’s Guides & Week 3 Legislative Updates

 

Get your 2017 Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide!
GHF’s annual Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide is your map for navigating the Georgia legislative session. The Guide provides information on the legislative process, contact information for legislators, key agency officials, and health advocates, and a new glossary of terms to help you understand what is happening under the Gold Dome. This tool will help advocates, volunteers, and consumers navigate the 2017 Georgia General Assembly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Surprise medical billing legislation expects a hearing
As we announced last week, Sen. Renee Unterman and Rep. Richard Smith each introduced legislation (SB 8 and HB 71) to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills. Both seek to eliminate this problem for consumers, but they resolve it in different ways. The bills are at the initial stages of the legislative process, so it’s too early to tell what the final solution may look like, but all sides agree that patients should be protected when accessing health care at an in-network facility. We expect to see the first hearing on the legislation this week in the House Insurance Committee.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
“Repeal and replace” Task Force 
The Senate has established a “Repeal and Replace” Task Force to address any changes to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the potential impacts on Georgia. Senators Burke, Judson Hill, Watson, and Unterman have been appointed to serve on the task force. They have begun initial closed-door meetings, but we expect that the process will include public meetings in the future.


AFY 2017 and FY 2018 Budgets 
The House of Representatives passed the amended FY 2017 budget, also called the little budget. Very few changes were made from the Governor’s recommended budget. Appropriations hearings continued on the FY 2018 budget.


Oral Health Legislation 
Rep. Sharon Cooper introduced HB 154 last week. This bill is more limited in scope than Sen. Unterman’s SB 12, but both allow for general supervision of dental hygienists under certain circumstances. “General supervision” means that a dentist can authorize a licensed dental hygienist to perform certain duties but does not require the dentist to be present when those duties are performed. The primary purpose of both bills is to reduce the barriers to dental care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities in Georgia.


Opioid Abuse omnibus bill introduced 
Sen. Unterman introduced SB 81, titled the “Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. Act”, which addresses the ongoing opioid abuse crisis in a number of ways. The legislation enables greater access to naloxone, a medication used to combat opioid overdoses, by allowing the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health to issue a standing order permitting over-the-counter access or under other imposed conditions. The bill also requires prescribing physicians to discuss with their patients the potential risks associated with use of a controlled substance. Under this legislation, inspections would be required for all licensed narcotic treatment programs in the state, as well as the submission of patient outcomes data by the programs to the Department of Community Health. This bill contains many provisions to prevent and treat substance use disorders and we will provide a fuller analysis soon.

 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT 
Webinar: Health Care Policy in 2017
On Thursday, Director of Outreach and Partnerships Laura Colbert hosted a webinar to discuss the expected and proposed changes in health care policy at both the state and federal levels.She reviewed the most recent information about “repeal & replace efforts”, Protect Our Care advocacy, and health care in the 2017 Georgia legislative session. If you missed the webinar, don’t worry! You can see it on demand here.


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GHF Participates in “A Nation Engaged”

 Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin participated as a featured guest at WABE’s A Nation Engaged community forum at the Carter Center in Atlanta on the evening of January 17th. The forum, an initiative of WABE’s A Closer Look radio show, featured a range of thought leaders, community activists, policy experts, and previous guests of the program. The conversation was wide-ranging and incorporated different views and perspectives. Georgians for a Healthy Future was honored to be invited and to be part of the lively event. You can see more details and listen to the entire special broadcast here.


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Legislative Update: The First Two Weeks

Legislation introduced to protect consumers from surprise medical bills!
This morning, Sen. Renee Unterman and Rep. Richard Smith each introduced legislation to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills. A surprise medical bill can occur when an insured consumer unknowingly receives care from an out-of-network provider at an in-network health care facility. The consumer is then responsible for the excess medical costs which can add up quickly. The bills introduced today would help to protect consumers from these large, unexpected bills.You can help!

  • Contact Sen. Unterman and Rep. Smith to thank them for their attention to this important consumer issue.
  • If you have received a surprise out-of-network medical bill, share your story with our partners at Georgia Watch. Consumer stories help illustrate why legislation is needed to protect Georgia consumers like you.

 

 

 

FY 2018 Budget 
One of the legislature’s major responsibilities is to pass a state budget each year. Governor Deal proposed a $25 billion state budget in his State of the State address for Fiscal Year 2018, and last week the legislature held budget hearings to gather input from state agencies about their proposed departmental budgets. Three state agencies have jurisdiction over health and health care: the Department of Community Health (DCH), which oversees Medicaid, PeachCare, and other state health care programs; the Department of Public Health (DPH), which administers public health and prevention initiatives and programs in Georgia; and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), which provides treatment, support services, and assistance to people with disabilities, behavioral health challenges, and substance use disorders. Because of the critical role that Medicaid plays in covering low-income children and other vulnerable Georgians, it is important that it be adequately funded. Issues to watch this legislative session around Medicaid and the state budget include the renewal of the “hospital tax” or provider fee, increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain primary care providers, and funding for autism services for children under 21. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Budget Primer is a great tool for learning more about how the state budget works and what to look out for during the session. You can also find power points and archived agenda from last week’s budget hearings here as well as the budget “tracking sheet” here.
Proposed Legislation
 

Oral Health–SB 12 
This bill would provide for “general supervision” of dental hygienists in Georgia, meaning that with a dentist’s permission dental hygienists could provide cleaning services to patients when a dentist is not present. The purpose of this legislation is to expand access to oral hygiene services in safety net settings like school based health centers, long term care facilities, and charity clinics. Read more about this legislation here.


Expansion of the rural hospital tax credits–HB 54 
Introduced by Rep. Duncan, this legislation would expand the new rural hospital tax credit program from a 70% credit to a 90% credit, among other minor changes. The tax credit program went into effect this year, after enabling legislation was passed in 2016.


Expected legislation 
It is early in the legislation session, so many health-related bills are still in the works. We expect to see legislation arise from two study committees that met this fall. The Senate Study Committee on Opioid Abuse is expected to result in legislation that strengthens the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and permanently allows naloxone to be sold over the counter, among other strategies to curb the opioid abuse crisis. Some legislation or action is expected from the House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health as well. That may include the creation of a Children’s Mental Health Reform Council, similar to the Governor’s successful Criminal Justice Reform Council. Finally, we have heard serious discussions about raising Georgia’s tobacco tax. No legislation has yet emerged but we do expect to see a bill introduced in the coming weeks.

If legislation is introduced addressing any of these issues or other health care-related topics, we will include updates in our weekly emails throughout the legislation session. You can also track health care-related legislation on our website any day of the week.


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Join us for a preview

It is a time of uncertainty for health care. Congressional leaders have already begun the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act, landmark legislation that established a framework for coverage that has resulted in the lowest uninsured rate ever recorded, rights and protections for health care consumers, and provisions to advance health equity. With the 2017 Georgia legislative session underway, state leaders have acknowledged that something must be done about Georgia’s high number of uninsured, the state’s struggling rural health care system, and the impending funding cuts to hospitals. With so much uncertainty and change, it may be hard to keep track of what’s going on in health policy.

Join us for a webinar to learn about and discuss expected and proposed changes at the both the state and national levels. We will provide you with the most recent information about “repeal & replace” efforts and #ProtectOurCare advocacy, and how that will impact Georgia. We will also preview health care in Georgia’s 2017 state legislative session and tell you how you can get involved in the health care issues that you care about through advocacy and public engagement. Join us for a look ahead at health care policy in 2017. Register here to join us!

 


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The 2017 Legislative Session is underway!

Georgians for a Healthy Future will be at the Capitol throughout the forty-day session to monitor health-related legislation, serve as a voice for health care consumers, and keep you informed about opportunities to engage and take action. For the past four years, our top legislative priority had been closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. In the wake of the 2016 election, the national policy landscape has shifted considerably, knocking that off the table this year and placing existing coverage, care, and consumer protections at risk. Despite this backdrop of uncertainty and a critical need for federal advocacy, there will be important decisions made over the next three months at the state level that impact the health of individuals, families, and communities.

 

While it is early, here are the major health care issues we preliminarily expect legislators to tackle in 2017:

  • Renewal of the provider fee commonly known as the “hospital tax” or “bed tax” to help fund Medicaid and keep hospital doors open
  • Development of a set of reforms to improve mental health services based on the recommendations of a legislative study committee that has been meeting over the past several months
  • Creation of a “repeal” task force to assess the impact of changes to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Georgia
  • Addressing the practice of surprise medical billing, which can leave insured consumers with unexpected bills when a health care provider is out-of-network
  • Increasing reimbursement rates for certain primary care services for health care providers participating in Medicaid
  • Improving access to dental care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities

 

Georgians for a Healthy Future has several ways for you to stay up-to-date on what’s happening under the Gold Dome this year:

 

Stay tuned for updates throughout the session.

 


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Action Alert: #ProtectOurCare

The President-Elect and Congressional leadership are already working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but have not yet communicated what a replacement might be. Repealing the law without an adequate replacement would do great harm to consumers, destabilize Georgia’s health insurance market, and stress our health care delivery system. Approximately one million Georgians would lose their health insurance by 2019, bringing the number of uninsured in our state to a staggering 2.4 million people – more than before the ACA was passed. Millions more would lose their basic rights and protections as consumers, and access to care would be at risk. We could lose:

 

  • Protections for people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more or from being barred from coverage. Pre-existing conditions include chronic diseases like diabetes, mental health conditions, asthma, cancer, and more
  • Protections that keep women from being charged more than men
  • Free preventive care
  • The ability to keep young adults on their parent’s plan until age 26
  • Financial protections that limit the amount of money consumers must pay out-of-pocket each year for care and that keep insurers from limiting lifetime benefits
  • Anti-discrimination provisions that protect consumers based on sex, gender identity, language spoken, or country of origin
  • Health insurance navigators who offer free, local, unbiased assistance to help people find the health care coverage that works best for them

 

We need your help!

 

Members of Congress value what their constituents think, and the battleground over repeal will be focused on the United States Senate. Senators Isakson and Perdue need to hear from you today. Please call them at 202-224-3121 and tell them “Repealing the health care law without a replacement will affect everyone, particularly the one million Georgians who will lose coverage. Don’t take away our health care.”
Want to do more?

 

Please also consider sharing your health care story with us or with your Member of Congress or United States Senator. Federal policymakers need to hear the stories of their constituents whose basic access to coverage and care hangs in the balance before they make any decisions that impact your health care.

 

Follow #ProtectOurCare and GHF on Twitter and Facebook for updates and action alerts.

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