“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.
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.
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
Recently released HHS numbers show that health insurance enrollment in Georgia and across the country is going strong. The Affordable Care Act is what has made these coverage gains possible, yet Congress has prioritized repealing this landmark legislation without clarifying what would replace it. We need your stories and your voice to ensure our policymakers understand the consequences of repealing the law. Please consider submitting your story, or the stories of the people that you serve, of how the ACA has benefited you. Whether it’s being able to afford coverage through the availability of tax credits, not being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or being able to stay on a parent’s plan until age 26 – we need to hear from you!
Last week, Georgians for a Healthy Future convened experts and advocates from a range of sectors including housing, criminal justice reform, education, and transportation for a discussion about social determinants and how we can break down silos to advance health. In conjunction with the convening, we released a new publication, Health Beyond Health Care: Opportunities to Advance Health by Addressing Social Determinants. This paper provides results from key informant interviews and a review of promising community-based and policy initiatives, highlights standout local examples of health in all policies approaches, and features state-level budget and policy recommendations to address the social determinants of health.
See event photos on our Facebook page.
Tuesday’s election results have the potential to dramatically shift the health care landscape nationally and here in Georgia. It’s too soon to know precisely what policy changes will occur and what their impact will be, but advocacy at both the state and federal levels on behalf of Georgians who need access to quality, affordable health care has never been more important.
The President-Elect and Congressional leadership have vowed 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. Repeal is a serious threat and the consequences would be devastating: twenty million Americans and nearly 500,000 Georgians would lose their coverage, while millions more would be stripped of basic protections and face higher costs. Congressional leaders have also signaled their intention to make cuts to Medicaid and other critical health care programs, which would further threaten coverage and access to care for Georgia children and families.
Georgians for a Healthy Future is committed to lifting up the voices of Georgians whose basic access to care hangs in the balance and ensuring these voices are heard and considered as policy decisions are made. We cannot return to the days when anyone with a pre-existing condition like cancer or diabetes can be denied coverage, where women can be charged more for health insurance simply because of their gender, and where LGBT Georgians can be discriminated against in health care. We cannot allow the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who have finally experienced the sense of security that comes with health coverage to go back to being uninsured and out of options. In short, we plan to fight and we need your support and partnership.
We ask you to partner with us in the coming weeks and months as our work enters this new phase. Here is what you can do:
Thank you for all that you do.
This August, GHF invited both advocates and enrollment assisters to the second annual Getting Georgia Covered summit. Bringing these two groups together was the first step in fostering ongoing conversations and partnerships to ensure that health coverage translates into meaningful access to care for Georgians. Through the summit, GHF collected feedback and input for a report that highlights how assisters and advocates can team up for consumers. We invite you to read and share Collaborating for Consumers: How Assisters and Advocates Can Inform Policy, in which you will find opportunities and best practices for collaboration to achieve our shared goals.
Direct consumer support plays an important role in assisting consumers to enroll into and maintain their health coverage. Georgians for a Healthy Future, primarily a health advocacy organization, provided direct enrollment services to Georgians in the last two open enrollment periods through enrollment events, in-person appointments, phone assistance and referrals. GHF continues to engage with other enrollment entities through its Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resources (GEAR) network which is a central hub of Marketplace resources, and provides technical support to assisters through newsletters, e-blasts, trainings, webinars, and forums.
In OE3, GHF primarily focused on post enrollment work undertaking more complex consumer cases such as resolving coverage issues with the Marketplace and insurance providers, payment issues, tax filing and reconciliation issues, and issues with supplemental documents. In this role, GHF provided crucial support to consumers and enrollment assisters to resolve these types of issues and help consumers maintain their coverage.
Here is what our consumers reported about their experiences
GHF conducted a post-enrollment consumer satisfaction survey with 25 consumers between April and July 2016. The survey participants reported that they sought a combination of services during their appointments. The table below provides the details for each type of post-enrollment assistance.
Twenty-four out of 25 (96%) participants reported that they were able to resolve the issues that they sought assistance for, as explained by these quotes…
“Paid my premium, sent supplemental documents, added two kids to the application, received delayed cards” – Res# 1, Female, 30.
“My coverage had been suspended for over a month due to a technical issue. GHF helped me reinstate my suspended insurance by advocating on my behalf with both Marketplace and Ambetter. My benefits were reinstated within 3 business days”— Res# 16, Female, 62.
GHF Success Stories:
Tony Caldwell, a consumer with disability, was waiting to get his power wheelchair for over a year. With direct enrollment support from GHF, he was able to get his application completed during SEP and select a plan that covered his wheelchair. Tony quotes, “I finally ended up getting my power wheelchair that I had been waiting for over a year. It has helped me from passing out. Thanks to you all.”
Clyde Mohammed and his wife Sharda (West Indian couple) came to renew their marketplace plan at Switzer Public Library in Marietta. They also wanted to change their current plan since the premium was going up in 2016. Assisted the consumers to complete their application. They were found eligible for subsidies. They enrolled into a health plan with $57 monthly premium and $600 family deductible. The family was able to save over $150 in monthly premium by switching their plan.
The majority of the participants reported the Marketplace application process to be very complicated and that they couldn’t have resolved their issues without the help of an enrollment assister. Those participants who found the process to be comfortable reported the assistance they received to be the key reason. Participants also reported that the education from enrollment assisters made it easier for them to understand and use their new health insurance.
Trends from our direct consumer support experiences and those we have heard from our partners suggested that direct enrollment assistance was crucial for consumers in making enrollment decisions as well as tackling post-enrollment issues. Direct assistance will continue to be crucial for consumers, both new enrollees and re-enrollees, in the days to come as there will be changes in participating insurance providers, premium price, and personal details such as household size and income all of which will require enrollment assisters’ expertise.