“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.
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!
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.
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!
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.