GHF hosts educational forum about children’s behavioral health

Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted an educational forum titled Strong Foundations: Building a System of Care to Address the Behavioral Health Needs of Georgia Children on Tuesday, May 15. The forum explored the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. The event also raised awareness about Georgia’s system of care in an effort to improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth.

The event began with Respect Institute speaker Tammie Harrison, who shared her experiences navigating the behavioral health care system and getting to a place of recovery.

Because many of the event attendees were new to the topic of children’s behavioral health (BH), GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided some foundational information about the prevalence of children’s BH conditions, contributors to poor BH, and the pathways to BH care and supports for young Georgians. You can find Laura’s PowerPoint slides here. She also debuted GHF’s new behavioral health fact sheet.

Dante McKay, Director of the Office of Children, Young Adults, & Families at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provided attendees with an overview of DBHDD’s work, the 2017 System of Care state plan, and how the recently signed FY19 budget would impact the department’s ability to serve Georgia children and youth.

Dr. Erica Fener-Sitkoff, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children moderated a panel discussion of BH service providers, which included Wendy Farmer of Behavioral Health Link, Laura Lucas of Project LAUNCH (DBHDD), and Monica McGannon of CHRIS 180. The panelists discussed barriers to accessing BH services, which they said include continued stigma, lack of trained workforce, and transportation. The panel also identified innovative efforts, like Project LAUNCH and mobile crisis services, to bring BH services closer to consumers when and where they need it. When asked how Georgia’s next Governor could continue to make progress in the area of children’s behavioral health, panelists suggested a focus on workforce development, increasing access to community-based substance use treatment for teens, and prevention and early intervention.

 

If you missed the event, a recording of the webcast is available here.

To see photos, review materials, and read more about our Strong Foundations event, please visit the event page.


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Moms need Medicaid

Valerie is a mother of three children living in Lamar County. Medicaid covers all three of Valerie’s children, and they rely on the health coverage it provides for their varying health needs. Valerie sometimes has difficulty accessing the care and information the family needs because they live in a rural area, but acknowledges that Medicaid is a lifeline that makes it possible for her to focus on her family’s other needs. Without health insurance through Medicaid, Valerie would have to pay hefty medical bills to ensure her children receive the care they require.

 

Susie is the sole caretaker of her young granddaughter, but she has a hard time caring for herself because she is stuck in Georgia’s coverage gap. She makes more than $6300 annually, so she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid coverage as a caregiver, and she doesn’t make enough to receive financial help to buy health insurance through the Marketplace. Susie is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but because she lacks health coverage, Susie is only able to receive cancer treatments from a doctor that allows her to make low monthly payments. Susie has other chronic health issues that need to be managed but finds it difficult to receive consistent care without insurance. Because Georgia’s elected officials have not extended Medicaid to cover caregivers like Susie, she struggles to care for herself while working to ensure her young granddaughter receives the care and support she needs to grow up healthy and thrive.

Medicaid provides access to needed health care services for low-income soon-to-be-moms, new mothers, and very low-income parents of minor children. For moms like Valerie, Medicaid makes being a mom a little easier by ensuring that their children have access to the health care services they need to grow and stay healthy. For others, Medicaid would help them get or stay healthy so they can best fulfill the responsibilities of being a mothers or caregivers. Over 150,000 uninsured women like Susie would gain health insurance if Georgia’s decision makers extended Medicaid to cover low-income adults (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three).


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Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: FY2019 budget and children’s mental health

Despite several missed opportunities to address consumer health concerns during this year’s state legislative session, the FY2019 budget includes several impactful investments. Last week, Governor Nathan Deal traveled through Georgia and held budget signing ceremonies in Atlanta, Acworth, Blue Ridge, Statesboro, and Tifton for the $26 billion spending plan which will begin on July 1 of this year through June 30, 2019. The infusion of dollars into children’s mental health is especially noteworthy and exciting because of the impact it is expected to have across the state.

Governor Deal has recently made children’s behavioral health one of his top health care priorities and this year included in his proposed budget $20.6 million to fund recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. During its consideration of the state budget, he legislature ultimately increased the funding dedicated to these recommendations to $21.4 million.

These funded recommendations include behavioral health crisis services, supported employment and education for young adults with behavioral health needs, provider training and telehealth, and opioid abuse prevention for youth. Funding for suicide prevention will in part go towards expanding the capacity of GCAL, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, which provides 24/7 online and telephone support for people who are seeking services for developmental disabilities, mental health, or substance use issues. Some of the additional funding is also dedicated to the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with BH needs..

In the coming months, we will break down the Commission’s funded priorities and their impact on young Georgians. Look for our Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies blog mini-series.

Looking for more information on this topic? Georgians for a Healthy Future will be hosting an educational forum later this month during which we will explore the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. Join us in person or via webcast for this exciting and important event!


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For Travis, Medicaid means employment and giving back to the community

Travis suffered from a series of strokes when he was 11 years old that left him with several physical disabilities. He is one of the approximately 250,000 Georgians with disabilities to be covered by Medicaid.

Several years ago, Travis started volunteering with DisabilityLINK because he believes in the power of community and he likes being able to help others. Since then, he was hired as a Independent Living Specialist at the organization, where he connects people with disabilities to community-based resources and assists in coordinating various events at the DisabilityLINK office. He also works alongside other activists on issues such as housing, accessibility and self advocacy.

Travis recognizes that Medicaid is the reason he is able to financially support himself and work for an advocacy organization. Without the support Medicaid provides, Travis explains, he would not be able to help others the way he has been able to through his work at DisabilityLINK. When asked what he wanted others to know about him being able to receive affordable health insurance he replied, “With me working I am able to be a tax paying citizen.”

Medicaid is essential to ensuring that people with disabilities, like Travis, are able to lead fulfilling, independent lives as active participants in their communities. Georgia’s Medicaid program provides almost 2 million low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, pregnant women, and very low-income parents with access to the health care services that they wouldn’t have otherwise.


Your story is powerful! Stories help to put a human face to health care issues in Georgia. When you share your story, you help others understand the issue, its impact on Georgia, and its importance.

Your health care story is valuable because the reader may be your neighbor, friend, someone in your congregation, or your legislator. It may inspire others to share their stories or to become advocates. It is an opportunity for individuals who receive Medicaid or fall into the coverage gap, their family members, their physicians and concerned Georgia citizens to show that there are real people with real needs who will be impacted by the health policy decisions made by Congress and Georgia’s state leaders.

Share your story here!


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GHF and Step Up Savannah partner to host health advocacy training

Georgians for a Healthy future partnered with Step Up Savannah to host a health advocacy training on Tuesday, April 3rd.  Advocates learned how they could participate and lead health advocacy efforts in their own community and received information about pressing health advocacy issues in Georgia. Representatives from Healthy Savannah and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council were also in attendance to share local resources.

The significance of Medicaid was highlighted throughout the event. Participants learned that Medicaid primarily covers low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women, including 40,000 of Chatham County residents. Alyssa Green, GHF’s Outreach & Education Manager, discussed Georgia’s opportunity close the coverage gap so that 240,000 more Georgians would have access to health insurance coverage. Alyssa shared the story of a Georgia woman who works part-time at DisabilityLINK but is stuck in the coverage gap and, as a result, has trouble managing her high blood pressure.

GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert introduced ways that people can advocate for the health care issues that matter most to them, like increased access to healthcare, bringing down health care costs, and protecting the Medicaid program. She explained how to build a relationship with legislator, communicate support or opposition for significant bills, and other forms of advocacy.

The training concluded with presentations from the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and Healthy Savannah. The two Savannah-based organizations provided participants with information and resources to promote and build a healthy local community.

 

If you are interested in hosting a training like this in your community, please contact Alyssa Green at agreen@healthyfuturega.org or 404-567-5016 x 2 for more information.


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New tool available to Georgia health care providers to address the opioid crisis

Laura Colbert, MPH, MCHES

 

Every day four Georgians die from opioid overdose and recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that the epidemic shows no signs of slowing. Health care providers, public health professionals, community leaders, and families are all searching for effective strategies to slow and stop this growing public health crisis. Some initial steps have been taken by Georgia policy makers and others to increase access to life-saving drugs like naloxone, improve and expand the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to prevent over-prescribing, and raise public awareness about the risks of opioids and other substances, but more is needed. Solutions must include evidence-based strategies that emphasize prevention and early intervention, as well as timely treatment and support for recovery.

An exciting development within Georgia’s Medicaid program gives health care providers an additional tool to aid in the fight against substance use disorders, especially among adolescents and young adults. Georgia’s Medicaid agency has activated the reimbursement codes for a tool called SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment. SBIRT is a set of tools that identifies people who use alcohol or other drugs at harmful levels and guides follow-up counseling and referral to treatment before serious long-term consequences occur.

Ninety percent of adults who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before they were 18 years old. Because Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids cover half of all Georgia children, the activation of the Medicaid reimbursement codes for SBIRT is a powerful opportunity to identify youth substance use and intervene early. Studies show that simply asking young people about drugs and alcohol use can lead to positive behavior changes and that brief interventions reduce the frequency and amount of alcohol or other drug use by adolescents.

This policy change was the product of a sustained advocacy effort by Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) and the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA). We anticipate it will lead to the screening of an estimated 145,000 Georgia youth annually and that 36,000 of those youth will present substance use behaviors that prompt a brief intervention with a health care provider. Initial data from Georgia’s Medicaid agency demonstrates that some providers are already making use of the SBIRT codes in their practices.

Notwithstanding these exciting results, we have committed to continue our efforts to improve access to screening, early intervention, and recovery services and supports for young people across Georgia. While the Medicaid reimbursement codes allow physicians, physician extenders, and advanced practice registered nurses to provide SBIRT services, we recognize that RNs, LPNs, licensed clinical social workers, and certified peer counselors can and should be able to provide SBIRT to youth and adults. Further, the codes allow SBIRT to be provided primarily in health care settings, but that excludes schools and other community-based settings where most young people spend their time.

We invite you to join our efforts to prevent substance use among young Georgians. Spread the word by giving our new fact sheet to the providers in your clinic, public health department, or hospital. If you are a health care provider, attend a training to develop the skills to implement SBIRT with the people that you care for. Join our on-going advocacy efforts to activate the reimbursement codes for more practitioner levels (including RNs and LPNs) and more settings by contacting us to let us know you are interested.

The opioid and substance use crisis that is sweeping Georgia and impacting communities nationwide will require a full spectrum of solutions that leverage the expertise of health care providers, public and private resources, and community and family supports. SBIRT is an evidence-based tool that can play a significant role in our collective efforts to reduce substance use and create a healthier Georgia for all of us.

To learn more, visit our Keeping Youth on a Healthy Path page.

For health care providers: download our new fact sheet here.

 

 

 


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Sine Die

Thats a wrap for the 2018 Georgia legislative session!

The Georgia General Assembly completed the 2018 legislative session in the early morning hours on Friday. A flurry of significant bills passed in the final days of the session. We are disappointed that agreement could not be reached to protect consumers from surprise out of network medical bills, but are heartened that other legislation passed to improve access to health care for consumers across the state. Check out our summary of the more notable bills below and find a full list of health care related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

 


Everything you need to know about the 2018 legislative session

Georgians for a Healthy Future and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute will be presenting “Changes in Health Care and Policy in the 2018 Legislative Session” on Thursday, April 19th at 10:00 AM. Make sure to join GHF and GBPI to hear an overview about the bills, resolutions, and budgets that were passed and that will affect Georgia’s health care system and consumers. Tune in to this webinar to find out how this session’s legislation may affect your work, your health care, or your coverage.


 

WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
HB 683: Amended FY2018 Budget | PASSED

HB 683 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2018. The FY2018 supplementary budget (also called the “little budget”), makes necessary, mid-year adjustments to the current state budget. Governor Deal signed signed the $25.4 billion amended budget on March 9, 2018 at a ceremony in Polk County. The budget included $1.2 million for hospitals to offset costs due to the high number of flu cases.


HB 684: FY2019 Budget | PASSED 

HB 684 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The budget, which totals $26.2 billion, includes several new investments in children’s mental health per the recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health, and fully funds and the Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s (MMRC) recommendations at $2 million. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY2019 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


HB 314: Surprise billing legislation | DID NOT PASS

Legislators failed to reach an agreement about how to best resolve the problem of surprise out of network billing for Georgia consumers. HB 314 (formerly SB 359) would have prevented consumers from receiving balance bills when they unexpectedly receive care from providers that are not in their insurance plan networks during emergencies. Surprise out-of-network medical bills can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and are more common when insurance plan provider networks are very narrow and restrictive. Georgia’s provider networks are the narrowest in the nation.


SB 357: Legislation to establish Health Coordination and Innovation Council | PASSED

SB 357 establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council and an advisory board to the Council. The Council will act as a statewide coordinating platform, bringing together all of health care’s major stakeholders. It’s members will include the Commissioners of several state agencies as well as a primary care physician, a pharmacist, a dentist, and representatives from the academic community, but there are no specifications about who will serve on the Council’s advisory body. The legislation sunsets in 2022 and will have to be reauthorized in order to operate past July 1st of that year.


HB 769: Recommendations from the Rural House Development | PASSED

HB 769 is the result of the 2017 House Rural Development Council’s work. The bill included a number of provisions, most prominently of which was the creation of a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The bill also increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100%, directed the Department of Community Health to streamline and create efficiencies within the state medical plan, allows for the establishment of micro-hospitals, sets up an incentive program for physicians practicing in rural areas, and redefines “rural county”.


HB 827: Rural hospitals tax credit increase | DID NOT PASS

HB 827, introduced by Rep. Trey Kelley, would have expanded the rural hospital tax credit program from a 90% credit to a 100% credit. The tax credit program went into effect last year and has resulted in the donation of about $10 million to rural hospitals thus far. The legislation was tabled late in the legislative session because the tax credit language was included in HB 769.


HB 740: Education legislation impacting behavioral needs of young students | PASSED

HB 740, which requires schools to provide a multi-tiered system of supports for a student in pre-school through third grade prior to expelling or suspending the student for five or more days was passed by the Senate last week. The legislation provides increased opportunities for schools to screen students for a variety of academic and behavioral health needs, and connect them to the appropriate health and other services.


SB 325: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act & Step therapy | DID NOT PASS

SB 325 would have allowed Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It would also have granted states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers. All of the bill’s original language was removed and substituted with new legislative language that, among other provisions, limits step therapy and sets up a process for physicians to request exceptions (previously HB 519). Step therapy is a requirement by some insurers that patients try a series of lower-cost treatments before the insurer will cover the treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician.


SB 351: Changes for APRNs | DID NOT PASS

SB 351 would have expanded from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation was significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice.


SB 352: Legislation to establish Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery | DID NOT PASS

SB 352 establishes a Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery, headed by a director and charged with coordinating data among relevant government entities; informing strategies to combat the opioid crisis within the Departments of Public Health and Education, the Attorney General’s Office, and other state entities; consulting with the Governor’s office on a potential Medicaid waiver related to opioid abuse; and developing and informing other efforts to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services across the state.


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#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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GHF welcomes Satcher Health Leadership Institute fellow

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.


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2017 Advocate’s Guides & Week 3 Legislative Updates

 

Get your 2017 top dentist in chandler 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 and to have certified dental offices. 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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Mar 19, 2018
Bill Would Let ‘Micro-Hospitals’ In Rural Georgia Counties
Elly Yu

Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for Healthy Future said there are good provisions in the bill, but there are other things the bill didn’t address. “HB 769 nibbles around…

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