Laura Colbert, the executive director of the patient-advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, is especially concerned about rural patients. Ninety percent of Georgia’s Obamacare customers would be protected from…
Just like any actor is no more than 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, you
are probably no more than 1 degree of separation from someone who would be impacted by Congress’s ongoing attempts to gut Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Are you or do you know any of these people?
- A child—half of Georgia’s children are covered by Medicaid, so even if the child in your life has some other kind of coverage, her best friend or classmates probably have Medicaid coverage
- A senior who already does or may soon need long term care or supports—Medicaid is the primary payer for 75% of nursing home stays in Georgia. For seniors aging in their homes, Medicaid provides home health aides and supports home modifications that allow older Georgians to age in the homes they know and love.
- A person who runs their own business—you may know a graphic designer, general contractor, photographer, or farmer who runs their own business. These entrepreneurs generally must purchase their own health insurance and many do through the health insurance Marketplace. For those just starting out, they probably receive financial assistance to help lower their premiums and reduce out of pocket costs. The AHCA proposes to significantly
reduce the amount of financial assistance available for those buying insurance on their own.
- A child or adult with a developmental or physical disability, you are able to get what you want no matter the circumstances,—for Georgia’s children and adults living with disabilities, Medicaid is a lifeline that provides them with access to life-sustaining health services. It also supports home and community-based careso that they can live, study, and work with or near family, friends, and neighbors.
- A person of color—African Americans and Hispanics have seen historic declines in their uninsured rates since the ACA went into effect, helping to close historic disparities in insurance coverage. The proposed rollback of financial assistance for private insurance and Medicaid eligibility would have a disproportionate impact on people of color, especially children. The Medicaid changes alone are estimated to leave 70,000 black children and 40,000 Hispanic children in Georgia without coverage.
- A person with a chronic condition like diabetes, HIV, depression, or cancer—
under the ACA, people with pre-existing conditions are protected from being charged more or rejected when seeking health coverage. And insurance companies have to cover the essential health benefits meaning that the services people need for pre-existing conditions are covered too. The AHCA would allow states to waive this requirement under certain circumstances, sending people back to a time they could be priced out of coverage entirely.
- A veteran—50,000 Georgia veterans rely on Medicaid for access to health care, a 29% increase since 2013. Not all veterans qualify for care through the Veterans Administration (VA). Medicaid helps to fill the gap so that all of these brave men and women can access the care they need.
The American Health Care Act would dismantle Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act, threatening the coverage, protections, and supports that all of these people rely on every day. Think of the people in your life that fit into these categories–is it you? A parent or child? A close friend or colleague? Then take action to protect their health care.
Call Senator Isakson today and tell him about your friends, family, and neighbors who would be hurt because of the AHCA. Ask him to oppose any measure that 1) cuts and caps Medicaid, or 2) reduces coverage for Georgians. Call 202-224-3643 today!
Surprise billing legislation passed by committee
SB 8 was heard by the House Insurance committee this morning and passed unanimously. Among other transparency and notification requirements, this version of the surprise billing legislation requires that providers and hospitals must provide consumers with information about the plans in which they participate, and that upon the request of consumers, providers give an estimated cost of non-emergency services before they are provided. Insurers must inform consumers whether a provider scheduled to deliver a service is in-network, and if not, an estimation of how much the insurer will pay for the services, among other notification requirements. SB 8 will now go to the House Rules committee.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Senate passed the FY2018 budget
Last week, the Senate approved the FY 2018 budget. The budgets approved by the Senate and House differ slightly, so a conference committee will be appointed to meet and work out the differences. You can check the Differences Report for specifics on the variance between the House and Senate budgets, and we will provide a brief overview of the final version once the conference committee finishes its work.
Insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids passed
SB 206 was approved by the House of Representatives today, and will require private health insurance plans to cover hearing aids for children under 19 years old. The legislation stipulates that the costs cannot exceed $3000 per hearing aid and that the plans cover replacement hearing aids every four years or when the hearing aid fails before that time. Medicaid already covers hearing aids for children who qualify for coverage.
Pharmacy Patients Fair Practices Act passed by both chambers
Both HB 276 and SB 103 were approved by the Senate and House respectively last week and will get sent to the Governor for his signature. This legislation (which we previously covered here) will regulate practices of pharmacy benefit managers so as to allow consumers access to their pharmacy of choice, provide the opportunity for home delivery of medications, and prevent consumers from over-paying for prescriptions. It is really important to find a pharmacy that you can trust, I suggest to check Canadian pharmacies which have been very reliable for me.
Legislation to synchronize multiple medications passed
SB 200 will make it easier for people to synchronize their prescriptions so that they can pick up multiple prescriptions at the same time. The bill requires that insurance plans pro-rate medication co-pays for partial prescription fills so that the schedules for medications can be synced if requested by a patient. Under current law, a person may have to pay a full co-pay even if a pharmacist is providing only a part of their 30-day medication in order to synchronize multiple prescriptions. SB 200 passed the House Insurance committee last week and was approved unanimously by the House this morning.
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. It´s important to take care of your health in every way possible, if you happen to have issues such as stress or depression buy kratom a natural drug that fights these issues immediately. If you want to know our special health care you can visit healthyhempoil.com.
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
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.
With three annual open enrollment periods completed and a fourth one just around the corner, the Health Insurance Marketplace has become established as the avenue for purchasing coverage for roughly half a million Georgians. This report builds on last year’s Getting Georgia Covered: Best Practices, Lessons Learned, and Policy Recommendations from the Second Open Enrollment Period and focuses on understanding the characteristics of the people who have enrolled in marketplace plans and the experiences of consumers and the enrollment assisters who helped them. Their insights can inform the work of advocates, stakeholders, and policymakers to reach shared goals of reducing the uninsured, improving access to care, and addressing affordability for consumers.
Inside you’ll find:
- 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
- Policy opportunities to increase enrollment, improve access to care, and address affordability issues
Today the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they will file suit to block both the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna health insurance mergers. Georgia’s attorney general is listed as one of the plaintiffs in the Aetna-Humana case.
Earlier this week we released a policy report, Proceed with Caution: Proposed Health Insurance Mergers Could Harm Georgia Consumers, which details Georgia’s current health insurance market and how these mergers could decrease competition and access to care while increasing prices.
In light of the DOJ’s announcement, the Georgia Department of Insurance is indefinitely postponing its review of the Aetna-Humana merger and has canceled next week’s hearing. This marks an important milestone victory for Georgia health care consumers and we will keep you posted on any future developments.
In this report, Georgians for a Healthy Future summarizes current insurance market concentration in Georgia, outlines the impact of mergers on premiums and access to health care providers, explains the role of regulators in approving mergers and Georgia’s review process, and provides policy recommendations to protect consumers.
Next week, public hearings will be held on the proposed Aetna-Humana insurance merger. GHF’s health policy analyst Meredith Gonsahn will provide testimony. If you are interested in attending,more details are available and if you have any questions about GHF’s public comments, please reach out to Meredith.
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin sat down with A Spirit of Charity author Mike King to discuss his new book on the role of public hospitals in America. Below is a Q&A that delves into some of the book’s major themes. On July 19th, Georgians for a Healthy Future will hold a book event in Atlanta with Mike King, providing a unique opportunity for the advocacy community to discuss the history and role of public hospitals in America and the direction of health policy in Georgia with the author.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have been writing and editing stories about medicine and health care policy for about 30 years. When the newspaper business collapsed and I chose to leave it in 2009, I thought I’d just retire and take it easy. But when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 I realized I had the time, without daily deadline pressures, to tell a story about the most important effort at reform over the last 50 years and how it might play out right here in Atlanta and at Grady in particular.
How do public hospitals serve as a window into America’s health system?
As the book hopefully makes clear, the people who show up in the emergency rooms and clinics of America’s public hospitals are the result of all gaping holes, political compromises and unintended consequences of decades of attempts to reform our health care system. Even in our noblest of efforts, we always seem to leave whole segments of our society behind. Donald Trump, in a candid moment earlier in the campaign when the media pushed him for more details about what his alternative to Obamacare would look like, frustratingly blurted, “Look, we won’t let people die in the streets, OK?” In some ways that’s been our baseline as a health care system from the start, which is why public hospitals were created. We don’t let our citizens die in the streets. They get sick in the street but, if they are lucky, we get them to a public hospital that hopefully will rescue them from dying before they return to the streets. That’s a harsh assessment, I know, and we do much better than that in many places thanks to the commitment of engaged local and state leaders, but there are too many places where the local public hospital seems expected to shoulder this burden on its own.
Four of the five hospitals profiled in your book are located in the South, and the role of Southern politicians in crafting U.S. health policy is explored throughout the book. Why a focus on the South?
Because the South is where the most problems are. Texas, Florida and Georgia lead the nation in the dubious distinction of having the most uninsured residents among all 50 states – mostly because all three have refused to expand Medicaid the way the ACA called for. Louisiana is high on the list too, but the new governor there is moving to try to expand Medicaid. Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Jackson Memorial in Miami, the University Medical Center in New Orleans (the replacement hospital for Charity) and, of course, Grady, all have to contend with a huge percentage of patients who are poor and uninsured and could be, should be, covered by Medicaid. That’s why I chose them.
Some public hospitals like Grady were established during segregation. The 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which catalyzed hospital construction, contained a provision permitting segregation in hospitals receiving federal funds. How does this legacy of segregation impact public hospitals today?
Hill-Burton was the first time federal law actually codified a separate-but-equal funding mechanism and it was inserted into the law specifically to get members of Congress from the South to go along. Rural hospitals around the South and more than a few in the suburbs were built in the 1950s and 60s with Hill-Burton money. Grady was rebuilt as a segregated hospital in 1958. After the enactment the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Medicare in 1965 that changed. Segregated hospitals – public and private – stood to lose too much money that they would be getting for the care of previously uninsured elderly patients if they stayed segregated. But there is still a legacy to overcome. There’s a reason elderly Atlantans still refer to Grady as the Gradies, going back not that long ago to when there was a Black Grady and a White Grady, with black nurses taking care of black patients and white nurses taking care of white patients. It still complicates the public discussion about how best to finance and administer this particular public hospital. I suspect that goes on in a lot of communities around the South that share a similar legacy.
You write that public hospitals serve as a “pressure release valve” for our nation’s health system. What do you mean by this?
We often refer to these places as safety net hospitals. But I contend they are more than that. The existence of a single hospital in a community that is chartered or required to take in all patients regardless of ability to pay fundamentally alters the medical marketplace in that community. It allows those hospitals that compete with it to measure their anticipated level of charity care against their expected revenue from insured patients and come up with a formula that helps them stay healthy and able to grow. It is not that most of these competing hospitals don’t provide a responsible level of charity care. Most of them do. But it is always at a level they can afford to provide. Public hospitals operate on a totally different business model. They have to take all comers and the only way they can stay open is to get some level of funding from state and local taxes to offset their losses. Here’s another way of looking at it: If Grady had gone belly up in 2007 and 2008, all the uninsured and indigent patients it served would have swamped the emergency rooms of Piedmont, the Atlanta Medical Center, Northside, St. Joseph’s, Emory and DeKalb Medical as well as other hospitals, jeopardizing their ability to provide the level of services their business model calls for. The safety valve would have blown.
Information about Medicaid, the health care program intended to help finance care for low-income Americans, is interwoven throughout your book. How are the histories and fates of Medicaid and public hospitals intertwined?
They are the key to understanding each other because Medicaid patients make up a large portion of the patients who go to these hospitals. When Medicaid was enacted in 1965 the theory was that with a health insurance program now in place for the poor and with Medicare available to the elderly, our nation’s public hospitals would finally start getting paid for many of the services they had been providing on a charity basis. But unlike Medicare, Medicaid was hampered – I would argue fundamentally flawed – by a series of compromises to get it through Congress. States were given a much bigger role in determining how poor you had to be to qualify for Medicaid, how much they wanted to pay doctors and hospitals to provide services for Medicaid patients and indeed whether they wanted to participate in the program at all. (Arizona didn’t join Medicaid until the 1980s.) The result was a checkerboard of health care programs for the poor around the country, based largely on what the states decide. And in the South, Medicaid has been chronically underfunded at the state level and treated more like a welfare program. This is how Southern politicians get away with calling it a failure. They starve it for funds, make it difficult for low-income people to get covered by it, grossly underpay doctors and hospitals that take patients covered by it and then decry the program for not working and being inefficient.
America’s health system is characterized by fragmentation. Why do you think this is and what is the role of public hospitals in a fragmented system?
We’ve all heard it before. America has a sick care system, not a health care system. And that system is based on who pays for sick care, not necessarily how we can more effectively pay for care to help keep people healthy. The good news is that the ACA is moving in the direction of breaking down some of the silos that have developed over the decades in how we deliver and pay for health care, with an emphasis on moving away from paying a fee for specific services and toward paying for overall wellness. That’s good. But it will take years to see results. Public hospitals will need to move in this direction as well – and some of them are. Cook County’s Medicaid Program (County Care) is coordinating care with its community hospital and clinic network and the federally funded community health centers in Chicago. The initial results look encouraging. If it works it will not only save lives but help control the rise in costs. But public hospitals must adapt to these new models and remain, in most large cities, the sole providers of costly essential services like trauma, HIV/AIDS and behavioral health for those who are still uninsured.
You write that, if public hospitals didn’t exist, “We would have to invent them.” What would an America without public hospitals look like?
It would be fascinating to see, wouldn’t it? Public hospitals were created one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago when it became obvious that the charitable institutions in large American cities could not meet the demand for care caused by yellow fever, cholera, pestilence and other public health threats, not to mention the population growth in cities after the Civil War. The almshouses and infirmaries, often staffed by religious women and funded by churches and community groups, just could not keep up. I suspect the same would happen today if we came to rely exclusively on the nonprofit sector to take over the responsibility for caring for the poor and uninsured. Even if we became enlightened and created a system of true universal insurance for all Americans, there would still be a need for expensive specialty areas. Trauma care, infectious disease programs, severe, chronic mental health services – these essential services now almost exclusively provided by public hospitals – I would suspect they would require some level of local and state financing at a public facility that would go beyond what they can expect in the way of revenue from a public insurance plan.
Grady is featured prominently throughout the book. What did you learn about Grady by writing this book that you didn’t know before?
That it is even bigger and more complicated and harder to manage than I ever dreamed. I think the current administration there is doing a really good job at getting the hospital positioned to be everything it can be. The quality of the specialty services there – trauma, neuroscience, neonatology, burn care, sickle cell, infectious disease – has probably never been better. The cancer program there, in addition to being first rate at the acute care level, is making great strides in the community in the much-needed area of early detection and treatment. That will go a long way toward reducing the disparities that exist in morbidity and mortality between white and black, affluent and poor residents of our community. But the hospital is still heavily reliant on the business and philanthropic community to grow, especially when it comes to capital improvements and equipment. That’s all been private money since the comeback started. State and county officials have yet to step up to the plate to help. If they are willing to help the Braves and the Falcons build new venues, they must be willing to step up to help Georgia’s most important hospital build and grow and provide essential services.
What role does Grady serve in health care policy in the state of Georgia?
The state needs to recognize Grady is a statewide institution, if for no other reason than it is the training ground for about one in every four doctors practicing in Georgia. I’ve often wondered whether the state’s relationship with Grady would be different if it had been affiliated with a state medical school instead of Emory and Morehouse – two private medical schools. Perhaps then it would have paid more attention to it. Even though Grady gets patients from almost every one of Georgia 159 counties, it isn’t realistic to think the state must subsidize indigent patient care there, but it could do much better and providing funding for the specialty services that Grady provides to all Georgians – trauma care, burn care, infectious diseases, etc. And, of course, it should expand Medicaid coverage so that Grady and all other hospitals in the state that have a heavy load of uninsured patients will at least have an opportunity to recoup some of their costs.
Where do you think Georgia is headed on health care policy?
I think we’ll expand Medicaid. Eventually. After President Obama is in the rear view mirror. We’ll call it something else so it doesn’t sound like it is part of Obamacare. But we will have squandered $3 to 5 billion and 100 percent federal funding to make this impetuous political statement, and no telling how many Georgians – one study puts it at 1,200 lives a year – who died because they lived in a state where they should have, but were kept from, enrolling in Medicaid. With a little political vision – and the help of advocates and experts – my hope is that we could create a Medicaid program that isn’t so fragmented; that fully integrates primary care and acute, hospital care; that reorganizes local hospitals and health departments into a true public health system that helps people stay healthy and when they get sick have no barriers to the care that they need. That shouldn’t be a pipe dream in a country as wealthy and smart as ours. That should be a working reality.
Does a strong consumer voice make a difference in health policy outcomes? According to a Mathematica Policy Research evaluation of state-level consumer health advocacy projects supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), yes!
At Georgians for a Healthy Future, consumer engagement is woven into each of our initiatives to bring the needs – and voices – of Georgia health care consumers into the public policy process. Over the past two years, one of our top priorities has been maximizing health insurance enrollment and ensuring that, once enrolled, consumers can access the care they need. Our work in this area, along with that of similar efforts in seventeen other states, was recently evaluated by Mathematica. The evaluation focused on the activities and outcomes of the eighteen Consumer Voices for Coverage (CVC) projects funded by RWJF.
Georgians for a Healthy Future was a CVC grantee in 2014-2016. Through this program, we focused on outreach, education, and enrollment in coverage and used this work to inform and strengthen our policy work. The CVC evaluation found that coalitions, such as the one led by GHF in Georgia, played a central role in successful outreach, allowed consumer advocates to work together to help maximize enrollment and retention, and helped identify policy issues needing attention.
These coalitions worked to increase enrollment in health coverage programs by building alliances with diverse stakeholders, mobilizing and engaging consumers, identifying achievable policy options to address issues arising from consumer experiences, designing and implementing communication strategies, and securing resources to sustain these efforts.
While the CVC program is winding down, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s work in this area will continue through our Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resource (GEAR) network and through our ongoing policy work around coverage, access to care, and health care value. As we continue this health policy and advocacy work, we will leverage the advocacy infrastructure and ability to translate consumer voices strengthened through CVC into concrete policy actions.
To read the complete Mathematica evaluation, click here.