“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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
Crossover 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
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.
- 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.
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.
This workbook is a take-home, interactive resource for the newly enrolled. It covers topics that enrollment assisters may not have time to cover during the enrollment appointment, such as how to find a primary care provider, how to make your first appointment, and even how to make a budget. People can fill in the workbook with their own information so they have all of their important health coverage information in one place. Download the workbook here.
Earlier this year, two separate proposed health insurance mergers were announced. A November New York Times article laid out some of the concerns that consumer advocates have about the proposed mergers and featured comments from Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director. Our Health Policy Analyst Meredith Gonsahn is monitoring this important issue – be on the lookout for a policy brief in the new year that provides more detailed insights about the potential effects of these mergers. You can also learn more by visiting the Coalition to Protect Patient Choice.
Georgians for a Healthy Future is excited to release our new enrollment toolkit! The toolkit is a comprehensive compilation of fact sheets, neatly organized, that are designed to walk consumers through each step of the enrollment process – from how to get health insurance (enrollment) to how to use health insurance once they have it (post enrollment). You can download it here.
Need more information like this? You’re in luck! GHF has created the GEAR Network for people just like you. GEAR is the new central hub of resources for Georgia’s enrollment assisters and community partners that are working with people to educate them on their health and health coverage options. We’ll send out weekly emails full of local resources and the information you need to know through OE3 and beyond. For more information on GEAR, check out this presentation.
Who, what, when, where and why
By Pranay Rana
Pranay is GHF’s Consumer Education and Enrollment Specialist. A certified application counselor, he assists consumers with enrollment into health insurance through the Marketplace. Pranay can also help you once you have enrolled with questions about how your coverage works. To set up a meeting with Pranay you can email him or give him a call at 404-567-5016 x4.
Open Enrollment 2016 (OE3) is less than 10 days away! Open enrollment is an annual period when individuals and families can choose from a variety of coverage options in the marketplace, apply for tax credits, and purchase a health plan that best meets their needs. Consumers can get 24/7 over-the-phone enrollment assistance via the Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 or can find local in-person assistance at localhelp.healthcare.gov. Individuals and families with incomes between 100% and 400% of the 2015 federal poverty level (FPL) may be eligible to receive financial assistance to help pay for their monthly premiums (see the chart below for what FPL means in real dollars). Consumers with lower incomes (between 100% and 250% of the FPL) may be eligible for additional help with out-of-pocket costs if they choose a “silver” plan. In 2015, 9 out of 10 Georgians who enrolled into marketplace plans were able to access tax credits. Consumers who do not qualify for subsidies may still be able to purchase plans through the marketplace at a full price.
So, when does my coverage start?
|Coverage Dates||Enrollment Deadlines|
|January 1, 2016||December 15, 2015|
|February 1, 2016||January 15, 2016|
|March 1, 2016||January 31, 2016|
The marketplace will discontinue subsidies for those consumers who did not fulfill their tax filing requirements for 2014 in order to reconcile their income and subsidies at the end of the year. Consumers are advised to fulfill their tax filing requirements every year and call the marketplace or local assisters for help if subsidies are being dropped without any legitimate reasons. Consumers who do not qualify for subsidies because their income is too low are also advised to obtain an Exemption Certificate Number (ECN) to avoid tax penalties.
What do I need to do to renew my existing plan?
You may simply call the marketplace for 2016 application renewal if you need to change plans for 2016 or update your information. If you are happy with your existing plan and have no updates to make then you do not need to do anything. The marketplace will simply auto-renew your application for 2016.
What if I need help?
- You can call GHF’s enrollment assister at 404-331-9981 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can call the marketplace 24/7 at 1-800-318-2596
- You can also find local help at healthcare.gov.
Federal Poverty Level Table, 2015
Commentary from Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director
The nation’s uninsured rate has plummeted over the past year and a half. Here in Georgia, more than 400,000 people have enrolled in health insurance, bringing our state’s uninsured rate down to 15 percent. While there is still much work to be done to ensure that all Georgians have a pathway to coverage (like expanding Medicaid), it’s also important to make sure that those who are newly covered are able to access needed health care services.
Are newly insured Georgians accessing the care they need? For the most part, the answer seems to be yes. The early evidence shows that most people who signed up for health insurance have been able to find a doctor with relative ease and get an appointment for primary care within a week or two.
This is a development worth celebrating, but there are also some warning signs on the horizon that policymakers should heed: according to a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, Georgia had the highest percentage of health plans utilizing “narrow networks” of providers. In addition, reports of provider directory inaccuracies and networks too skinny to deliver all of the services in a plan’s benefit package have started to emerge.
Narrow networks offer a limited choice of providers in exchange for a lower premium. While many Georgians are willing to make this trade-off, others need a broader network to meet their health needs. And everyone deserves the tools and information to make that choice and to know that they can access services for all covered benefits.
Health care consumers now have access to standardized information about premiums, benefits, deductibles, and other health plan features that make it easier to pick the right plan. Yet provider network size and composition remain a black box for consumers, holding them back from making the best, most informed decision they can. Combined with a rapid trend toward narrow networks, this could put some consumers at risk of not being able to access all of the providers and services they need (or at risk for high medical bills if they have to go out-of-network).
These trends are being examined as part of the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561). I was honored to be appointed to this committee to represent Georgians for a Healthy Future and to bring the consumer perspective to the committee. The committee’s third meeting, slated for the morning of November 9th at the State Capitol, will focus on network adequacy, or whether there are adequate standards in place to ensure that consumers enrolled in a health plan have reasonable access to all covered services in the plan.
As a committee member, it is my goal to make sure the voices and needs of consumers are heard and considered. It is becoming clear that consumers don’t yet have 1) access to all of the information they need to select a health plan that best meets their needs and 2) protections that ensure their health plan will provide timely and meaningful access to all covered services. Fortunately, these are problems we can address.
I will be supporting enhancements to provider directories that give consumers the information they need and deserve (such as enhanced search functionality and a simple way to report inaccuracies) as well as network adequacy standards for Georgia that ensure no insured Georgian has to travel an unreasonably long distance or wait an excessive amount of time to access the care they need. I’ve also learned a great deal about this issue by watching the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s work in this area, and was happy to sign on in support of the policy recommendations around network adequacy that the NAIC’s consumer representatives issued last year.
I am excited about this opportunity to make our health system work better, and GHF will keep you posted on new developments. If you’re interested in providing testimony to the committee, please let us know and we can forward your request to Senator Burke, who chairs the study committee.