“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.
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.
October is Breast Cancer awareness month and at Georgians for a Healthy Future we are committed to helping women access essential cancer screenings, including mammograms to detect breast cancer, through working to ensure that all Georgia women have access to health insurance. Uninsured, low-income women often face financial barriers to receiving recommended screenings for breast and cervical cancer and in Georgia, minority women face additional breast cancer disparities. However, research has shown that women who live in a state that has expanded Medicaid are more likely to get a mammogram than women that live in a non-expansion state. In 2008, women in every state had the same likelihood of getting a mammogram, but in 2015 a study found that women in expansion states were 25% more likely to get screened. As you can see, expanding Medicaid allows women to get the potentially life-saving preventive care they need. So for all the women in your life, please sign our petition to close the gap here.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As we approach the 2017 legislative session, we have the opportunity to close the coverage gap and ensure that some becomes all. Check out our new video about the Georgians stuck in the coverage gap and our opportunity to close it.
Today, we are asking that you be a part of the movement and contribute $25 to our campaign to close the coverage gap. Your contribution will allow us to travel across the state meeting with and raising up the voices of Georgians in the gap. It will fund our media efforts so that everyone, from Blueridge to Bainbridge, will know that these people can’t wait. The time to close the coverage gap is now.
Moving the conversation forward
Yesterday marked the start of a new chapter in the campaign to close the coverage gap. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce Health Access Task Force unveiled a set of proposals to expand coverage. We are heartened that business leaders and health care industry stakeholders recognize the important role that coverage plays in a healthy and productive Georgia. You can read the news coverage in the AJC, WABE, Georgia Health News, and Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Is it a good plan?
We believe a coverage solution is one that extends coverage to all those Georgians caught in the coverage gap, does not erect unnecessary barriers to care, and maximizes the federal dollars set aside for Georgia. The Chamber’s proposal is a big step in this direction. While we have concerns about how some of the proposed provisions will impact consumers, we look forward to working with the Chamber, legislators, our Cover Georgia partners, and other stakeholders to find a solution that best serves individuals and families, our state’s health system, and our state’s economy.
What can I do to build on the momentum?
Be a part of the conversation! Your legislators need to know that this is an important issue for their constituents. Here you’ll find a quick and easy way to enter in your address and directly email both your state house and senate member. Let them know it’s time we close the coverage gap!
At Georgians for a Healthy Future, we’ve been fighting for expanded access to care since our doors first opened. We’ve developed videos and graphics to help simplify this complicated issue. We’ve created in-depth tools to explain the nuance and dispel myths. Our postcard and petition project has helped lift up this issue at the Gold Dome where we regularly testify and provide research to lawmakers.
As we get closer to closing the coverage gap we hope you’ll continue to stand with us. By signing up for the Georgia Health Action Network you’ll receive timely updates as the debate unfolds and easy ways for you to stay engaged. And, of course, we’re here for you! If you have questions about what’s going on, please ask!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – August 31, 2016
Georgians for a Healthy Future – Laura Colbert, firstname.lastname@example.org (404) 567 – 5016 x 2
Georgia Budget & Policy Institute – Laura Harker, email@example.com (404) 420 – 1324 x 103
Mercy Care – Diana Lewis, firstname.lastname@example.org (678) 843 – 8509
Atlanta, GA – August 31, 2016
Today the Georgia Chamber of Commerce released their proposal to address Georgia’s coverage gap, and expand access to health coverage for low-income Georgians.
Leaders of the Cover Georgia coalition responded with the following statements.
Cindy Zeldin, Executive Director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a health care consumer advocacy organization that heads the Cover Georgia coalition said:
“We are encouraged that business leaders and health care industry stakeholders have prioritized health care coverage as a necessary component of economic vitality. The set of policy options put forth by the Georgia Chamber provides a strong starting point. We look forward to a statewide conversation in the coming months about the best approach to ensure all Georgians have a pathway to coverage and access to care.”
Laura Harker, Policy Analyst for Georgian Budget & Policy Institute, a nonprofit focused on Georgia’s fiscal and economic outlook:
“We are encouraged that Georgia leaders are talking more than ever about the need to expand health care access and give the state’s health care system a timely boost. Closing the coverage gap is a smart investment for Georgia that would bring in billions of federal dollars and reduce uncompensated care costs.”
Tom Andrews, President of Mercy Care, a network of health clinics that provide primary care and support services to those who are homeless and uninsured said:
“On behalf of the 88% of our patients who are uninsured, we cannot adequately express the positive impact any one of these plans would have on the health of the patients we care for.”
Cover Georgia is a coalition of more than 70 organizations that have come together to educate the public, engage Georgia’s policy makers, and advocate to close Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. We believe a coverage solution is one that extends coverage to all those Georgians caught in the coverage gap, does not erect unnecessary barriers to care, and maximizes the federal dollars set aside for Georgia.
More resources about the coverage gap:
- A Chartbook for Understanding Medicaid in Georgia and the Opportunity to Improve It
- Georgia Left Me Out: Coverage Gap Fact Sheet
- Strengthening Georgia’s Rural Hospitals and Increasing Access to Care
Tremendous progress has been made over the past three years in increasing enrollment into health insurance that facilitates access to care and provides financial protection for individuals and families across the state of Georgia. However, too many Georgians are still uninsured, the trends toward narrow networks and consolidation within the health industry threaten to negatively impact access to care, and consumers express concerns about affordability. Addressing these issues will require collaboration between enrollment and health care stakeholders, advocates, and policymakers. Here are three things Georgia lawmakers can do to ensure that all Georgians have access to the quality of care they need.
- Close the coverage gap – Despite robust Marketplace enrollment in Georgia, we still have one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation, largely because our state policymakers have not yet closed the coverage gap. Georgia’s enrollment assisters have repeatedly expressed to advocates that this is the biggest barrier to enrollment that their consumers face.
- Addressing Affordability – Rate review is an annual process during which insurance companies submit their proposed plan rates for the coming year to be reviewed by state and federal regulators. We encourage state regulators to scrutinize these rates closely to ensure they are justified and to request adjustments if they are not. We also encourage policymakers to explore emerging approaches in health care payment and delivery reform that hold the potential to enhance value for consumers.
- Ensuring Access to Care – We encourage policymakers to build on the progress made by SB 302 by enacting comprehensive network adequacy standards in 2017.
For more details on policy and advocacy opportunities and our findings from research around the third open enrollment period, download our new report, Getting Georgia Covered: What We Can Learn from Consumer and Assister Experiences During the Third Open Enrollment Period.
Last week, Georgia health advocates, service providers, and enrollment assisters combined forces for a day of learning, sharing, and planning at our second annual Getting Georgia Covered summit. In conjunction with the event, Georgians for a Future released a new publication focusing on key themes in consumer and assister experiences during the 2016 open enrollment period, best practices for outreach, enrollment, and reaching eligible Georgians who remain uninsured, and policy opportunities to increase enrollment, improve access to care, and address affordability issues. The report, Getting Georgia Covered: What We Can Learn From Consumer and Assister Experiences During the Third Open Enrollment Period, is intended to be a resource for health care stakeholders, advocates, and policymakers.
In addition to workshops that fostered collaboration between organizations and individuals working on behalf of health care consumers in different ways, we also featured presentations and remarks from Dr. Pamela Roshell, Region IV Director, US Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Bill Custer, Director of Center for Health Services Research and Associate Professor, J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University, Heather Bates, Deputy Director, Enrollment Assister Network, Families USA and Sandy Anh, Associate Research Professor, Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms. Jemea Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer for the Center for Black Women’s Wellness, and Sarah Sessons, Executive Director of the Insure Georgia Initiative of Community Health Works also offered their expertise and insights in a closing panel. In the coming weeks, we will release a publication highlighting promising opportunities to improve consumer health through collaboration, drawing on the discussions and ideas that came out of the workshops and discussions.
Who doesn’t love to get mail? A hand-written note from a friend? An invitation to a wedding or surprise birthday party? A post-card from a family member enjoying their vacation in an exotic locale? Getting personal mail is not something that happens much this day and age, but still holds a lot of meaning to most people. If someone took the time to write you a letter to ask you to do something, wouldn’t that get your attention more than email? Now imagine that you got multiple letters asking you to do something from your friends, family members, and neighbors. That’s exactly what happened for a majority of Georgia’s state Senate and House members.
In July, Georgians for a Healthy Future mailed out stacks of post-cards to Georgia’s state legislators. These were not any post-cards. These were the postcards that GHF, with the help of the Cover Georgia Coalition, had been collecting over the past few years asking legislators to close the coverage gap. These postcards were signed by Georgians all across the state and were collected through outreach events, online petitions, and even Facebook ads. We collected more than 1100 postcards and sent them to legislators in every corner of the state. Many postcards included handwritten notes to their legislator asking them to close the coverage gap to help themselves, their family members, and fellow Georgians.
It’s not often that constituents are able to feel like they can directly communicate with their elected officials and this postcard project was intended to help give everyday people a voice for a topic that was important to them. More than 300,000 Georgians fall into the coverage gap and are unable to get affordable health insurance. Often these Georgians go without coverage and regular medical care. Many Georgians want to fix this issue and took the time to let their legislators know that they support closing the coverage gap. These postcards will have an impact as state legislators hear from their constituents that they want all Georgians have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
We will continue collecting postcards and sending them to legislators as we get them. If you haven’t signed a postcard yet, you can still do so by signing our online petition.
Georgia’s many summer festivals provide a unique opportunity for Georgians for a Healthy Future and our partners to get out in the community and talk with people about how health policy impacts their lives and how they can be advocates. On June 11th and 12th, we continued our summer festival outreach with an information & education booth at the Peachtree Corners Festival in Peachtree Corners. Our primary focus out in the community has been coverage gap education, but we also talked to attendees about our other priorities, including health insurance enrollment and youth substance use prevention. We also asked attendees who stopped by the table to sign postcards to show their legislators that they support closing the gap.
In addition to outreach, we collected stories of several Georgians who fall into the gap. One grandmother in her early 60s told us that she is taking care of her grandkids full-time and crossing her fingers that she doesn’t get sick before she becomes eligible for Medicare. All of the people that we spoke to that fell into the gap knew they were in the gap and why it exists, but were hopeful that Georgia’s lawmakers would do something soon to fix the problem.
The Cover Georgia coalition was well represented at the festival as well, and we want to give a special thanks to Feminist Women’s Health Center, Georgia Watch, and Hemophilia of Georgia for volunteering with us. If you’re interested in volunteering with us at upcoming festivals, please reach out to Whitney or Laura.
It’s been an exciting few weeks for Close the Gap advocates. We are pleased to see that several of Georgia’s leaders have expressed to the press that they are willing to take a second look at closing Georgia’s coverage gap. By closing the gap, they would help not only hard-working Georgians but also struggling rural hospitals and the communities that rely on them. We hope to work with our state leaders in the coming months to build further support and to find a solution that works for all Georgians. Below you’ll find links to articles covering the conversation happening at the Gold Dome.
Task force aims to reshape Georgia stance on health coverage
Georgia Health News | June 21
Will Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion provide a model for other states?
Georgia Health News | June 20
Why A Ga. GOP chair wants to ‘re-examine’ Medicaid expansion
WABE | June 15
Medicaid expansion remains divisive for Georgia Republicans
Associated Press | June 11
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
Did you know that you can find and email your legislators right from the GHF website? Just enter your address and we’ll find your state representative and senator! Send them a brief email telling them that the time has come for our legislature to come together to close Georgia’s coverage gap! Send your email here.
These resources will help you understand what the coverage gap is and what it means for you and the state.