“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.
GHF is partnering with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine to host post-doctoral fellow Lizeth “Liz” Camacho. Liz has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from San Diego State University and a Master’s in Community Psychology from Michigan State University. In 2016, she earned a PhD in Lifespan Human Development and Family Diversity. Liz has over ten years of community-based health research experience. Her research focuses on the relationship between social determinants of health, such as discrimination, poverty, and depression, as well as the role of resilience in mental health. She is passionate about behavioral health issues and mental health policy, with a special interest on diminishing mental health disparities. Liz is also interested in the role of public health, health policy, and advocacy in decreasing health inequalities, including access to care.
As part of her fellowship experience, Liz is completing a practicum at GHF where she is leading a research project focusing on children’s behavioral health needs and services in Georgia. The results of the research project will inform the work of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. The project seeks to understand how prevalent different behavioral health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and oppositional defiant disorder are in children and youth across the state, and how those health needs are currently being addressed. To better support the behavioral health needs of children and youth in need, the project will examine what existing programs or policies could be scaled up and what new policies or programs may need to be introduced. The project also aims to inform the DBHDD about issues related to the state’s pediatric and youth-serving behavioral health workforce.
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
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.
Some of the most pressing and contentious health and insurance issues facing Georgians will be front and center during anticipated legislative study committee meetings this fall. Study committees meet during the off-session to take a closer look into specific policy issues and develop recommendations for the upcoming legislative session. Check out a full listing of House and Senate study committees. Below is a summary of the committees GHF will be actively engaged on the advocacy and policy fronts:
Senate Study Committee on Surprise Billing Practices (SR 974)
This study committee is charged with assessing laws to protect consumers against surprise billing. Surprise billing can occur when an insured consumer receives care from an out-of-network provider and is charged for the amount the insurance did not pay. In some cases consumers seek care knowing the risk. In other cases consumers end up with bills despite making appropriate efforts to stay in-network or because inadequate provider networks require them to go out-of-network to receive care they need. Surprise billing was a hot button issue during the 2016 legislative session as more consumers reported receiving a surprise bill and experiencing financial repercussions. This led to the introduction of legislation (SB 382). This legislation included a wide range of provisions for consumer notifications, network adequacy standards, independent dispute resolutions and regulatory oversight. Although SB 382 did not pass it served as a starting point for discussion and preparation for this study committee. GHF has identified surprise billing and the need for legislation that holds consumers harmless in surprise billing scenarios as a policy priority. GHF, in partnership with Georgia Watch, has been actively engaged on this issue and will present recommendation to the committee. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee, please contact Senator Renee Unterman, the study committee chair. The meeting schedule has not been announced but stay tuned for updates.
Senate Study Committee on Premium Assistance (SR 1056)
This committee will closely examine models and policies for premium assistance programs as an alternative to Medicaid expansion and is anticipated to be a forum for a robust discussion about policy options to close the coverage gap. Because Georgia has not yet accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians through Medicaid or a Medicaid waiver, approximately 300,000 Georgians remain stuck in a coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Closing the coverage gap by opening up coverage through Medicaid to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level is a policy priority GHF champions. During the last legislative session SB 368 was introduced and policymakers took a first step toward conversation on ways to close the coverage gap. Although SB 368 did not pass, it sparked a process that led to the upcoming study committee. GHF will present recommendations to the committee and amplify our campaign to close the coverage through our Cover Georgia Coalition. Cover Georgia is a coalition of more than 70 organizations that have come together to educate the public, engage Georgia’s policymakers, and advocate to close the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. To learn more about Cover Georgia click here and to join please contact Laura Colbert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-567-5016 ext. 2. Study committee appointments and meeting schedule have not been announced. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee stay tuned for updates.
Senate Study Committee on Opioid Abuse (SR 1165)
In light of the rise of opioid addiction and related overdose deaths, this study committee was created to examine legislative approaches Georgia could take to curb the opioid epidemic and save lives. Committee members have been appointed and include the commissioner of public health, Director of Georgia Drugs and Narcotics agency, a pharmacist, medical doctor and citizen with personal experience with opioid overdose. The first committee meeting is scheduled for September 30th in Gainesville and the second meeting will be held October 27th at the Capitol. Save the dates and we will provide more information soon. GHF in partnership with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse will present recommendations on activating Medicaid codes to promote the use of an evidence-based substance use screening and prevention tool known as SBIRT (screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment) statewide and a fiscal analysis of the costs and benefits of implementing SBIRT through Medicaid to the committee. To find out more about SBIRT and our Preventing Youth Substance Use Disorders coalition visit our website. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee please contact Senator Renee Unterman, the study committee chair.
Other Study Committees to Watch
- Senate Study Committee on Hearing Aids for Children (SR 1091)
- Senate Study Committee on Emergency Cardiac Centers (SR 1154)
- Senate Study Committee on State Sponsored Self-Insured Group Health Insurance Plan (SR 1166)
- House Study Committee on Mental Illness Initiative (HR 1093)
- House Study Committee on Professional Employer Organizations (HR 1341)
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!