“This has been moving at lightning speed, and it makes really big changes to our healthcare system,” said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future.
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.
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.
MPH Candidate, 2017
Georgia State University
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
- Learn: Download our 2017 policy priorities, read up on how the legislative process works, and track health-related legislation
- Engage: Sign up for our Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) action alerts
- Participate: Identify and contact your specific legislators on issues you care about
Stay tuned for updates throughout the session.
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