Medicaid Matters: Coverage saves lives

Queenesther is a mother of five children living in Albany, GA. She and her children, all under the age of 10, receive health care coverage and care through Medicaid.

Queenesther recently underwent surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy that was causing severe health issues and could have proved fatal. “Had it not been for Medicaid I wouldn’t have been able to get it removed and who knows what would have happened,” she said, reflecting on the importance of Medicaid for herself and her family. Because she was able to have the ectopic pregnancy removed quickly, Queenesther has been able to focus on caring for her young family and earning her degree.

Queenesther is fortunate compared to many low-income parents because Georgia makes it very difficult for parents to qualify for Medicaid coverage. Because Georgia’s Governor and the state legislature have so far refused to extend health coverage to most low-income parents (and other poor adults), parents must make less than 36% of the federal poverty line ($7656 annually for a family of three) to qualify for insurance through Medicaid. Parents who make between 36% and 100% of the federal poverty line ($9096-$25,100 annually for a family of four) are stuck in the coverage gap with no pathway to affordable coverage.

In Dougherty County, where Queenesther and her family live, 5,472 people, 22% of whom are parents, are stuck in the coverage gap but could be covered if Georgia’s policy makers extended insurance to this group. Like Queenesther, gaining coverage would enable them to better care for their children, pursue an education, and support their families.

For more on how parents and families would benefit from extending health insurance coverage, please revisit the Many Working Parents and Families in Georgia Would Benefit from Extending Medicaid Coverage report from GHF and the Georgetown Center on Children and Families.


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 releases a new consumer resource

Georgians for a Healthy Future has a new resource available to help low-and middle-income consumers navigate the often confusing and opaque health care, health insurance, and social services systems. The My Health Resource Guide provides consumers with an understandable, easy-to-use tool to help them better understand the health and social services systems that impact their health and connect with needed resources.

Included in the guide are sections about health insurance, finding a health care provider, and accessing mental health and substance use treatment services. The guide also points consumers to social services that fulfill other basic needs like transportation to and from health appointments, housing and food assistance, and legal support. All of the resources referenced in the guide are provided for free or at low-cost by community-based organizations or public agencies.

GHF developed the My Health Resource Guide to be distributed to and used by consumers, but we also anticipate it will be useful to professionals who know and work with low- and middle-income Georgians. We invite enrollment assisters, community health workers, social workers, clinicians, and others to use it as a reference or to distribute it directly to clients, patients and family members.

A printable, pdf version of the My Health Resource Guide is available here or contact Alyssa Green at 404-567-5016 x 2 or agreen@healthyfuturega.org to request printed copies.


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Stories from Georgia’s coverage gap: Teresa

Teresa began working as a teacher for the Headstart preschool program in 1994 but retired in 2010 because multiple health conditions made it difficult for her to work. Now her family’s only source of income is her husband’s monthly disability check, which is too high to allow him to qualify for Medicaid and too low to allow them to qualify for financial help to purchase private insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (Teresa cannot qualify for Medicaid no matter how low her income is because she does not have a disability or a child under the age of 18.) Both of them fall in Georgia’s coverage gap.

Teresa and her husband are just two of 197 of the Georgians in Clay County that are uninsured because Georgia’s decision makers have not extended health insurance coverage to low-income adults in Georgia (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three.)

Teresa struggles to manage multiple health conditions, the worst of which is a jaw condition that has caused her teeth to rot. Because Teresa has not had health coverage since 2009, she has had to find alternative, insufficient treatments for her jaw condition. She would have to pay $5000—almost four months of income—to receive the necessary medical remedies to alleviate her pain and stop the dental deterioration. If Georgia were to close the coverage gap, Teresa would be able to see her doctor on a regular basis without having to forgo appointments and services that would otherwise be too costly.

Georgia’s Governor and legislature have so far rejected the option to close the state’s coverage gap, leaving people like Teresa and her husband uninsured. Until Georgia’s policymakers extend health insurance to all low-income Georgians, Teresa, her husband, and 240,000 other Georgians will likely continue to skip health care appointments and forgo needed care because they have no pathway to coverage.

 


 

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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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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Legislative Update: March 20

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.


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What’s Next for Health Care Consumers?

Tuesday’s election results have the potential to dramatically shift the health care bill 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. www.bestblenderusa.com stated that, “We cannot return to the days when anyone with a pre-existing condition like cancer or diabetes can be denied coverage (if one can’t get insurance before cancer – can you imagine the obstacles of getting life insurance after cancer), 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:

  • Sign up for action alerts so we can keep you updated on opportunities for advocacy
  • Consider a donation even an organ donation, to Georgians for a Healthy Future so we have the resources we need to stand up for health care consumers every step of the way
  • Tell us if your organization is able to partner with us as we move forward to defend the tremendous strides we have made in the new environment

Thank you for all that you do.


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Department of Justice Moves to Block Major Health Insurance Mergers

Proposed MergersA win for Georgia health care consumers! 

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 like what happened in California’s Health Insurance Quote, and access to care while increasing prices from many insurance companies, but it may not affect private online companies as InsurancePartnership.org and others.

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.


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Yield for Consumers: Insurance Mergers in Georgia

The Georgia Department of Insurance will be holding hearings this summer on two key mergers that could impact the cost, quality, and coverage of health insurance that Georgia consumers are able to obtain.

Three of the nation’s biggest insurance companies (Aetna, Anthem, and Centene) are seeking mergers that would drastically change the health insurance market in Georgia and other states. What’s at stake for consumers is competition. Consumers benefit from competition, it encourages companies to offer lower prices, increase quality, and spur innovation. Currently in Georgia, the top four insurers control at least 75 percent of the market for individual, small group, and Medicare plans sold in the state. If the proposed Aetna-Human and Anthem-Cigna mergers go through then millions of Georgians can expect to see affordability, choice, and access greatly impacted.  But Georgia has the opportunity this summer to assess the merits of these mergers and, if approved, to guarantee that negative outcomes for our state’s consumers are mitigated.

State regulators have  power to approve mergers

Before the proposed Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers can go into effect in Georgia, both must be approved by the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (DOI). The DOI began reviewing the two proposed mergers in the summer of 2015. See initial findings for Aetna and Anthem here. After the review process is completed, a public commenting period, which includes a public hearing, will begin. During the public comment period this summer, consumer advocates have the opportunity to provide input and testimony in the public hearings where insurers will be questioned.  Following the public hearing, the Commissioner will issue a final decision to approve the mergers as is, approve with conditions, or disapprove.

How consumer advocates can get involved and have their voices heard

  • Submit public comments and/or questions on how you believe mergers would affect consumers. Email mergercomments@oci.ga.gov or send by U.S. mail to Administrative Procedure Division, 2 Martin Luther King Jr., Drive, West Tower, Suite 1016, Atlanta, GA 30334
  • Attend the hearing on the pending Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers. To receive meeting notifications, subscribe here
  • Georgians for a Healthy Future plans to submit public comments and provide testimony. If you would like to learn more about our comments and sign onto them as a partner organization, contact Meredith Gonsahn at mgonsahn@healthyfuturega.org.

How to ensure that bigger means better for consumers

Georgians for a Healthy Future looks forward to participating in the public commenting process. Over the next month, we will release a policy brief on insurance mergers to help inform our partner organizations and submit public comments to Georgia’s DOI. We will put forth recommendations of merger approval conditions for premium stability, network adequacy, value-based coverage, consumer protections, and regulatory oversight. We recommend that Georgia’s DOI carefully consider whether or not to approve each merger and which remedies best address the expected concerns of and effects on consumers.

Once the mergers are approved they cannot be reversed. Therefore, we urge extreme caution in reviewing whether the mergers should be approved at all. If, at the end of the comment and review period, the DOI has a high degree of certainty that the mergers can benefit consumers, the DOI should set conditions for approval by which insurers should be held accountable to ensure consumers realize these benefits.


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Secret Shopper Survey Finds Provider Directories Error-Ridden

Provider directories, or the listing of health care providers that are participating in a particular health plan, are intended to inform patients and consumers about which doctors are in their plan and how they can contact them to set up an appointment. For these directories to serve as the tool that consumers need, they must be accurate and up-to-date. A secret shopper survey conducted by the statewide consumer health advocacy organization Georgians for a Healthy Future, however, found these directories to be error-ridden, a problem that places consumers at risk when they seek to access an appropriate in-network health care provider. An analysis of four provider directories associated with plans offered by three of the state’s largest insurers found:

» Three-quarters of the listings had at least one inaccuracy (not in-network, not accepting new patients, not practicing at the location listed, inaccurate or inoperable phone number, or languages spoken inaccurately listed)

» One in five health care providers listed as participating in a plan’s network were not; in one directory forty percent of the providers listed were not actually participating in the plan » Among the providers who were confirmed to be in-network, thirteen percent were not accepting new patients; in one directory one in four confirmed in-network providers were not accepting new patients

» Fifteen percent of telephone numbers associated with providers listed in the directories were inaccurate or inoperable

These inaccuracies and usability limitations make it difficult for health care consumers, particularly those who haven’t had insurance before, to find and access an appropriate medical care provider. Setting basic standards for provider directories and protections for the consumers who rely upon them would go a long way towards making provider directories the tool that patients and consumers need when they shop for and use their health insurance.

Download the full set of findings here.


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Legislative Update March 1, 2016: Crossover Day Edition

WEEK 7

policy-prioritiesCrossover day is behind us and we are quickly approaching Sine Die, the final day of the legislative session. We are proud to say that one of GHF’s biggest legislative priorities – ensuring accurate provider directories for health care consumers – passed the full Senate unanimously last week! Thank you to those of you who contacted your legislators to voice your support! This week’s legislative update includes an a run down of which health care bills made it through Crossover Day and which did not. You can see a list of all the bills were’re tracking here along with supplemental information on most bills like relevant news, articles ad committee testimony delivered by GHF.

 


WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK

The Provider Directory Improvement Act
Last week SB 302 went for a vote in the Senate chamber and passed unanimously, 50 – 0! The bill is now in the House Insurance Committee where we expect it to receive a hearing soon. Join the Georgia Health Action Network(GHAN) to get important alerts about committee hearings, votes, and steps you can take to make sure your voice is heard at the Gold Dome!

Surprise Out-of-Network Billing
SB 382, the Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act had two hearings last week. While there is strong support for the legislation among consumer advocates and many health care stakeholders, hit did not pass through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee prior to Crossover Day. SR 974 is still a possible path to bring Senate-side policymakers together with stakeholders and advocates in the off-session to further study this complex issue.

Medicaid Payment Parity
The governor’s budget, introduced earlier this legislative session, maintained last year’s partial Medicaid payment parity. Full Medicaid parity would allow doctors to be reimbursed at the same rates for seeing Medicaid patients as Medicare patients. The FY 2017 budget, as passed by the House, adds $26.5 million for for Medicaid payment parity. The bill is now in the Senate for consideration.

Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
If you’ve been following our updates, you know that this session has seen growing interest in addressing the issue of Georgia’s uninsured rate and our struggling rural health infrastructure. Neither Sen. Rhett’s SB 368 nor Rep. Abram’s HB 823 crossed over. However, Sen. Rhett’s SR 1056, which proposes a study committee to look at approaches to covering the uninsured, is still viable as a Senate-side study committee (but would still need to pass through the Senate HHS Committee and the full Senate) and stakeholders continue to express interest in continuing the conversation passed the legislative session.


CROSSOVER DAY UPDATE

  • HB 919: Tax credits  for contributions to rural health care organizations – CROSSED OVER
    HB 919 passed out of the House on February 25 and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The total cap for the tax credits was reduced from $250 million to $100 million. GHF encourages policymakers to look at this legislation in conjunction with other bills around closing the coverage gap and addressing rural health so that we can tackle our rural health challenges comprehensively, including developing a pathway for rural, uninsured Georgians to gain coverage so they can better access health care services and finding a solution that can drawn down federal dollars available to the state through the Medicaid program.
  • HB 838: Health insurers to pay brokers a minimum of 4% of premiums collected – CROSSED OVER
    This bill passed out of the House on February 24th and is now in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
  • HB 1055: Repeal Certificate of Need program – DID NOT CROSS OVER
    CON regulates the construction of health care facilities and the services they provide. This bill would have eliminate that structure and set up a different one based on permits. Read more on this bill from Georgia Health News.
  • HB 684: To allow dental hygienists to provide certain services without direct supervision –  DID NOT CROSS OVER
    According to recent reports made on https://www.life-smiles.net/, this bill would have allowed dental hygienists to clean teeth in safety-net health centers with the permission of a dentist. Read more about the bill here.
  • HB 965: “The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act” – CROSSED OVER
    HB 965 would require that insurance companies cover stage four cancer treatment recommended by a physician regardless of cancer’s response to other treatments. The bill passed the House on February 22nd and is now in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
  • SB 158: “Insurer Transparency Act” – CROSSED OVER
    This bill defines and regulates rental networks through the Department of Insurance. SB 158 passed the Senate on February 16th and is now in the House Insurance Committee. Read: great guide to tenant screening
  • HB 768: The ABLE Act – CROSSED OVER
    The ABLE Act would establish a tax exempt account to pay for qualified expenses for people with significant disabilities that started before the age of 26. HB 768 passed the House on February 23rd and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
  • SB 299: “Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative” – DID NOT CROSS OVER 
    SB 299 proposed to create the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative and an all-payer claims database.
  • SB 291: “Georgia Affordable Free Market Health Care Act” – DID NOT CROSS OVER
    SB 291 proposed to allow direct contracts between physicians and patients for primary care services.
  • HB 834: Establish charity care organizations for healthcare for the uninsured – DID NOT CROSS OVER
    This bill proposed tax credits for donations to charity care organizations.
  • HB 694: Disclosure of Health Care Fees Act – DID NOT CROSS OVER
    HB 694 would proposed to require providers to disclose all fees prior to non-emergency services.
  • SB 265: Physician Direct Pay Act – DID NOT CROSS OVER
    SB 265 proposed to allow direct contracts between physicians and patients for primary care services.

LETS CHAT

As SB 302 moves over to the House for consideration, we talked to Sen. Elena Parent about why she supports the Provider Directory Improvement Act.

Elena Parent Thumbnail


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Jul 12, 2018
Federal funding for ACA ‘navigators’ to drop dramatically in Georgia
Andy Miller

“During a time when the administration is making numerous, often confusing changes to health insurance, more consumer assistance is needed, not less."-- Laura Colbert, Executive Director, Georgians for a Healthy Future

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