“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
Hearing on surprise billing legislation scheduled for tomorrow
SB 8, which seeks to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills, is scheduled to receive a hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services committee on Tuesday at 2 pm. SB 8 would establish a standard payment structure for physicians seeking reimbursement for surprise out-of-network services, and would hold consumers harmless in surprise billing situations. HB 71, the companion bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, is expected to be assigned to a sub committee of the House Insurance committee on Tuesday at 8 am.
You can help!
If you have received a surprise out-of-network medical bill, share your story with our partners at Georgia Watch. Consumer stories help illustrate to legislators why legislation is needed to help protect consumers like you. Click here to share your story!
What Happened Last Week
Senate passes provider fee renewal
On Thursday the Senate passed SB 70 which renews the provider fee (also called the “bed tax”) for another three years in order to fund Georgia’s Medicaid program. This allows the Department of Community Health to collect the 1.45% tax on hospital revenues in order to draw down federal Medicaid dollars. These additional dollars are disproportionately used to support rural and safety net hospitals who serve high numbers of indigent patients. The bill will now move to the House where it expects an easy passage.
“Expand Medicaid NOW Act” reintroduced
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams introduced HB 188, the Expand Medicaid NOW Act, last week. While we do not expect this bill to gain much traction because of the evolving health reform efforts at the federal level, it calls attention to the need to provide health care coverage to the 300,000 Georgians who are stuck in our state’s coverage gap because they do not currently qualify for Medicaid and cannot access health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Oral health legislation moves forward
Both HB 154 and SB 12, bills that allow dental hygienists to provide cleanings and other specified services in schools, safety net clinics, nursing homes, and private dentists’ practices under “general supervision”, received committee hearings and votes last week. Both bills will move to their Chambers’ respective Rules Committees to be approved for floor votes by the House and Senate.
Debate over opioid abuse prevention bill
SB 81 received its first hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services committee last week. The bill seeks to address the growing opioid abuse epidemic in Georgia in a number of ways, including: 1) Extending the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database of prescriptions written for certain narcotics and requiring physicians to consult this registry prior to prescribing under certain conditions; 2) Codifying the Governor’s emergency order increasing the availability of anti-overdose drug, Naloxone; 3) Requiring the tracking and reporting of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; and 4) Establishing penalties for providers who are not in compliance with drug prescription reporting requirements. While few dispute the need to address this issue, the scope of drug and drug classes that the bill covers, along with the severity of the penalty that physicians may be subject to for violating the law are currently points of contention. No vote was taken in Thursday’s committee hearing, but suggested changes were made and the bill is expected to be back before the same committee later this week.
Resources for you
Georgians for a Healthy Future has tools you can use to track and understand the Georgia legislative session. Stay up-to-date on the bills that matter to you with our legislation tracker and sign up for Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) action alerts so you know when to engage.
Get Your 2017 Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide!
GHF’s annual Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide is your map for navigating the Georgia legislative session. The Guide provides information on the legislative process, and contact information for legislators, key agency officials, and health advocates. This year, we’ve added a glossary of terms to help you understand what is happening under the Gold Dome. This tool will help advocates, volunteers, and consumers navigate the 2017 Georgia General Assembly. Download your copy here.
It is a time of uncertainty for health care. Congressional leaders have already begun the process 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. With the 2017 Georgia legislative session underway, state leaders have acknowledged that something must be done about Georgia’s high number of uninsured, the state’s struggling rural health care system, and the impending funding cuts to hospitals. With so much uncertainty and change, it may be hard to keep track of what’s going on in health policy.
Join us for a webinar to learn about and discuss expected and proposed changes at the both the state and national levels. We will provide you with the most recent information about “repeal & replace” efforts and #ProtectOurCare advocacy, and how that will impact Georgia. We will also preview health care in Georgia’s 2017 state legislative session and tell you how you can get involved in the health care issues that you care about through advocacy and public engagement. Join us for a look ahead at health care policy in 2017. Register here to join us!
Some of the most pressing and contentious health and insurance issues facing Georgians will be front and center during anticipated legislative study committee meetings this fall. Study committees meet during the off-session to take a closer look into specific policy issues and develop recommendations for the upcoming legislative session. Check out a full listing of House and Senate study committees. Below is a summary of the committees GHF will be actively engaged on the advocacy and policy fronts:
Senate Study Committee on Surprise Billing Practices (SR 974)
This study committee is charged with assessing laws to protect consumers against surprise billing. Surprise billing can occur when an insured consumer receives care from an out-of-network provider and is charged for the amount the insurance did not pay. In some cases consumers seek care knowing the risk. In other cases consumers end up with bills despite making appropriate efforts to stay in-network or because inadequate provider networks require them to go out-of-network to receive care they need. Surprise billing was a hot button issue during the 2016 legislative session as more consumers reported receiving a surprise bill and experiencing financial repercussions. This led to the introduction of legislation (SB 382). This legislation included a wide range of provisions for consumer notifications, network adequacy standards, independent dispute resolutions and regulatory oversight. Although SB 382 did not pass it served as a starting point for discussion and preparation for this study committee. GHF has identified surprise billing and the need for legislation that holds consumers harmless in surprise billing scenarios as a policy priority. GHF, in partnership with Georgia Watch, has been actively engaged on this issue and will present recommendation to the committee. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee, please contact Senator Renee Unterman, the study committee chair. The meeting schedule has not been announced but stay tuned for updates.
Senate Study Committee on Premium Assistance (SR 1056)
This committee will closely examine models and policies for premium assistance programs as an alternative to Medicaid expansion and is anticipated to be a forum for a robust discussion about policy options to close the coverage gap. Because Georgia has not yet accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians through Medicaid or a Medicaid waiver, approximately 300,000 Georgians remain stuck in a coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Closing the coverage gap by opening up coverage through Medicaid to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level is a policy priority GHF champions. During the last legislative session SB 368 was introduced and policymakers took a first step toward conversation on ways to close the coverage gap. Although SB 368 did not pass, it sparked a process that led to the upcoming study committee. GHF will present recommendations to the committee and amplify our campaign to close the coverage through our Cover Georgia Coalition. Cover Georgia is a coalition of more than 70 organizations that have come together to educate the public, engage Georgia’s policymakers, and advocate to close the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. To learn more about Cover Georgia click here and to join please contact Laura Colbert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-567-5016 ext. 2. Study committee appointments and meeting schedule have not been announced. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee stay tuned for updates.
Senate Study Committee on Opioid Abuse (SR 1165)
In light of the rise of opioid addiction and related overdose deaths, this study committee was created to examine legislative approaches Georgia could take to curb the opioid epidemic and save lives. Committee members have been appointed and include the commissioner of public health, Director of Georgia Drugs and Narcotics agency, a pharmacist, medical doctor and citizen with personal experience with opioid overdose. The first committee meeting is scheduled for September 30th in Gainesville and the second meeting will be held October 27th at the Capitol. Save the dates and we will provide more information soon. GHF in partnership with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse will present recommendations on activating Medicaid codes to promote the use of an evidence-based substance use screening and prevention tool known as SBIRT (screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment) statewide and a fiscal analysis of the costs and benefits of implementing SBIRT through Medicaid to the committee. To find out more about SBIRT and our Preventing Youth Substance Use Disorders coalition visit our website. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee please contact Senator Renee Unterman, the study committee chair.
Other Study Committees to Watch
- Senate Study Committee on Hearing Aids for Children (SR 1091)
- Senate Study Committee on Emergency Cardiac Centers (SR 1154)
- Senate Study Committee on State Sponsored Self-Insured Group Health Insurance Plan (SR 1166)
- House Study Committee on Mental Illness Initiative (HR 1093)
- House Study Committee on Professional Employer Organizations (HR 1341)
The first month of session is behind us and there is still so much to do! We’re excited about the discussion and movement around provider directory transparency. If you’re interesting in receiving action alerts as important legislation moves through the legislative process and small advocacy actions you can take, join the Georgia Health Action Network(GHAN)!
To see a full list of bills we’re following, click here.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK
Improving Provider Directories
SB 302, the Improving Provider Directories Act, will be heard, and possibly voted on, in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee this Thursday.
Please call or email the members of the committee to let them know that you support the Improving Provider Directories Act!
Sen. Charlie Bethel (Chairman) 404-651-7738
Sen. David Shafer (Vice Chairman) 404-656-0048
Sen. P.K. Martin (bill sponsor) 404-656-3933
Sen. Gail Davenport 404-463-5260
Sen. Marty Harbin 404-656-0078
Sen. Ed Harbison 404-656-0074
Sen. Burt Jones 404-656-0082
Sen. Joshua McKoon 404-463-3931
Sen. Renee Unterman (bill co-sponsor)
Sen. Larry Walker 404-656-0081
GHF supports updating Georgia’s network adequacy standards. We don’t expect to see legislation this year, but there are conversations happening in both chambers and in both parties. GHF will be advocating for a study committee to meet during 2016 so that the legislature will have enough information during the 2017 legislative session to debate the best standards for Georgia. To read more about network adequacy and why it matters to Georgia, check out our new policy brief.
Surprise Out-Of-Network Billing
In both the House and Senate we are still hearing strong interest in addressing surprise out-of-network billing. It is probable that we will soon see a bill that adresses this issue and we will keep you updated on any such developments.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
Rep. Stacey Abrams has sponsored HB 823, the Expand Medicaid Now Act. While we don’t expect this legislation to receive a hearing this year, it is sparking important conversations about the coverage gap in Georgia. Read more here.
This week we are highlighting in our Consumer Health Advocacy Today video series a conversation with Representative Debbie Buckner on her health priorities for the 2016 legislative session.
GHF and Georgia Watch host policy forum on network adequacy, surprise out-of-network billing, and provider directory accuracy.
Early in February, GHF and Georgia Watch partnered to host policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates at a policy panel on important health insurance consumer protections. The event opened with remarks from Senator Dean Burke and included presentations from Consumers Union’s Julie Silas, Georgia Watch’s Beth Stephens, and GHF’s Meredith Gonsahn. If you missed the event, you can find presentations and materials below!
Julie Silas’s presentation: Finding Policy Solutions for Provider Directories and Surprise Medical Bills
Meredith Gonsahn’s presentation: Improving Network Adequacy and Provider Directory Standards in Georgia
Who was there? Check out the photo album.
Georgia legislative study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues and develop strategies for the legislature to address them. Each committee produces a report on its findings and recommendations that they want to move forward in the next legislative session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees. GHF has been following and participating in the study committees focused on health issues impacting consumers. Below is a run-down of committees that have published their reports, the issues they investigated, and report recommendations.
Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561)
In light of changing practices and norms in the insurance market Senate Bill 158, the Consumer and Provider Protection Act, was introduced in 2015. This bill outlined provisions for consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance and created the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act. The aim of this committee was to understand how the current insurance environment affects the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee members included legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative.
Committee recommendations include the following:
- Rental networks– When insurers create networks for health plans, they contract with providers who agree to offer services at discounted rates. Rental networks are created when the same insurer “rents out” or sells access to network providers, at a different discounted rate, to other payers (e.g. insurers, third party payers, employers). Oftentimes this is done without provider’s consent, so a provider may unknowingly treat someone who is part of the rental network and have to accept a different payment amount. The committee agreed that transparency for both consumers and providers can be improved by including a more complete definition of “rental networks” in Georgia Code and further defining the Georgia Department of Insurance’s regulatory authority in this area.
- Provider contracting- The committee agreed that more discussions need to take place in two areas surrounding how insurers contract with providers. First, insurers are allowed to change the terms of a contract with a provider, at any point, without the provider’s consent. Second, providers argue that some insurers include all-product clauses in contracts, which means a provider has to participate in all plans offered by the insurer or none.
- Health provider network adequacy- As you may have read in the November Peach Pulse, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has put together a model act to address network adequacy. The committee recommended convening a multi-stakeholder group to review the Model Act to determine whether Georgia should consider adopting some of the Model Act’s measures and if we need additional legislation and regulation in these areas to protect and provide an appropriate level of access to care for consumers in the future.
GHF has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. We support the setting and enforcement of network adequacy standards for all health plans in Georgia. As the multi-stakeholder group looks into these issues further, GHF will continue to add the consumer voice to the dialogue to keep consumer priorities at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers.
Senate Study Committee on Youth Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Mental Health Substance Use Disorders (SR 487)
The committee was charged with identifying prevention and screening approaches for youth substance use disorders (SUD) and examining issues around the diagnosis rate of youth attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The committee made recommendations in the following five areas:
- Behavioral therapy- Behavioral therapy should be the first line of treatment for ADHD in young children and be required treatment for any child under six who has a diagnosis and receives medication.
- School workforce- Georgia must increase efforts to reduce student-behavioral health personnel ratios in schools and maximize resources available to students.
- Clubhouse Services Provided by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD)- The committee supports the clubhouse programs that provide a place for youth to go for substance use recovery support. The committee recommended increasing state funding for them, as well as creating additional clubhouse sites across the state.
- SBIRT: Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment- While the Committee supports SBIRT programs and training in the state, currently Medicaid does not bill for services, so the Committee will continue to monitor states that have recently activated Medicaid codes for SBIRT.
- School-Based Health Clinics- The Committee plans to monitor and share findings with Georgia’s CMOs and the House Study Committee on School-Based Health Centers (see below for committee summary), to potentially convene a joint study on the issue in 2016
GHF appreciates the Committee’s special focus on SBIRT and has been working over the past two years with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse to raise awareness about the promise of taking a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention through screening. GHF will continue to advocate for the activation of Medicaid codes to bill for SBIRT services because it is an effective approach to reducing youth substance use disorders and creating a bright future for our youth.
Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare (SR 560)
The focus of the Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare was on the current condition of women’s healthcare in Georgia, areas with existing deficits, and the growing number of women who are at risk of unhealthy outcomes. Here are some of the Committee’s recommendations:
- The Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD) State Registry are important initiatives that the Committee strongly supports.
- Strategies for funding and development (e.g. loan forgiveness, tax credits, increasing GME residency slots, etc) for health care providers that serve women across the state should be increased.
- The Committee will continue to monitor the status of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Pilot Program to inform future opportunities for patient-centered medical homes and increase the use of telemedicine.
- Continue state funding to Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention under DHS and the Cancer State Aid Program for FY 2016.
House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers (HR 640)
The intent of the committee was to provide recommendations on how to establish school-based health centers in communities to ensure students are healthy and achieve academic success. Committee members looked at the associations between health and education and ways in which school based health centers can be leveraged to increase access, provide affordable care, and produce cost savings. Key committee recommendations include the following:
- Steps to establish a SBHC should include three stages: planning, implementation, and sustainability.
- Telemedicine is an important element, especially in rural areas and is most effective when integrated into a healthcare system that is capable of delivering comprehensive services. State-wide investments should be made to increase use of telemedicine for systems of care and expanding the scope of practice for on-site providers who can be authorized to deliver services.
- Lake Forest Elementary School (Fulton County) and Albany Area Primary Health Care at Turner Elementary are models that have been successfully implemented.
The legislative session begins January 11th and many of these recommendations will be moving forward in the form of bills, policy changes within state agencies and through additional study committees. GHF will continue to follow these issues and keep you posted on progress and advocacy opportunities to get involved. Stay tuned!