“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
Despite several missed opportunities to address consumer health concerns during this year’s state legislative session, the FY2019 budget includes several impactful investments. Last week, Governor Nathan Deal traveled through Georgia and held budget signing ceremonies in Atlanta, Acworth, Blue Ridge, Statesboro, and Tifton for the $26 billion spending plan which will begin on July 1 of this year through June 30, 2019. The infusion of dollars into children’s mental health is especially noteworthy and exciting because of the impact it is expected to have across the state.
Governor Deal has recently made children’s behavioral health one of his top health care priorities and this year included in his proposed budget $20.6 million to fund recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. During its consideration of the state budget, he legislature ultimately increased the funding dedicated to these recommendations to $21.4 million.
These funded recommendations include behavioral health crisis services, supported employment and education for young adults with behavioral health needs, provider training and telehealth, and opioid abuse prevention for youth. Funding for suicide prevention will in part go towards expanding the capacity of GCAL, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, which provides 24/7 online and telephone support for people who are seeking services for developmental disabilities, mental health, or substance use issues. Some of the additional funding is also dedicated to the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with BH needs..
In the coming months, we will break down the Commission’s funded priorities and their impact on young Georgians. Look for our Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies blog mini-series.
Looking for more information on this topic? Georgians for a Healthy Future will be hosting an educational forum later this month during which we will explore the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. Join us in person or via webcast for this exciting and important event!
On February 15th, the Cover Georgia coalition, including Georgians for a Healthy Future, hosted Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol in order to ask state law makers to close Georgia’s coverage gap by extending health insurance to low-income Georgians.
The event began at Atlanta City Hall where GHF welcomed participants including advocates, nurses, medical students and community members. During the morning welcome Representatives Sam Park and Kim Schofield spoke to participants encouraging them to continue working to close Georgia’s coverage gap and Rep. Park shared a personal account of how Medicaid helped to save his mother’s life. Following that, GHF provided a short briefing about the need to close Georgia’s coverage gap and how to be an effective advocate.
At the end of the morning session, participants joined more than 100 advocates from the American Cancer Society at the Georgia Capitol where participants lobbied “on the ropes”. When speaking with their legislators, advocates emphasized the urgency of the issue and the need for every person in Georgia to have health care coverage. They also provided state lawmakers with a new tool called An Insurance Card for Every Georgian.
After talking with their legislators, advocates attended a large press conference in the South Rotunda featuring Neil Campbell of Georgia Council on Substance Abuse; Dr. Mitzi Rubin, a family physician and leader at the Georgia Association of Family Physicians; and Andy Freeman of the American Cancer Society. Ms. Campbell pointed out that providing more Georgians with health insurance is the most significant step our state could take towards addressing the opioid crisis. Dr. Rubin described how a lack of access to health insurance impacts her patients and their health. Mr. Freeman discussed the dual benefits of increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax: 1) reduced numbers of people smoking; 2) the increase in revenue from a tobacco tax would provide more than enough funding to pay for health insurance for low-income Georgians.
Cover Georgia Day was incredibly successful due to the partnership of Cover Georgia coalition partners, health care providers, and grassroots advocates, all of whom are committed to closing Georgia’s coverage gap. Thanks to all who participated.
If you missed Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol, it’s not too late to contact your state legislators to ask them to put a health insurance card in the wallet of every Georgian. Take action today!
Legislative session is more than half-way complete
The state legislative session is more than half-way over already and the General Assembly has been working diligently to complete its constitutional responsibility to pass a state budget. Thus far the House and Senate have passed their versions of the amended FY2018 budget and are working to come to consensus on a final version. The House is still considering the FY2019 budget. Other bills prioritized by legislative leaders have made their way through the legislative process and await the Governor’s signature.
Action under the Gold Dome
GHF supports legislation that provides important consumer protections within private insurance
The first half of the legislative session has been punctuated by the introduction of many bills that would impact health care and coverage for Georgia consumers. Several of these bills stand out as they align with GHF’s policy priority of facilitating greater access to care and ensuring financial protections for consumers purchasing private insurance. For these reasons, GHF is actively supporting the following bills:
- SB 359–legislation to address surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more, see our February 5th legislative update.)
- HB 872–would allow consumers to receive services from their preferred provider at an in-network rate for the entire coverage year, if the insurer advertises the provider as being in-network at the time a consumer enrolls in a health insurance plan
- HB 873–would simplify the prior authorization process for providers and patients seeking access to restricted or expensive health services or medications and would clarify and improve the information that insurers must provide to consumers about their prescription drug coverage (Re-visit last week’s legislative update for more information about HB 872 and 873.)
Rural health care bill moves forward
One of the legislature’s biggest efforts in 2017 was the work of the House Rural Development Council which, among other things, studied barriers to health care and possible solutions in Georgia’s rural communities. The result of their studies is HB 769 which creates a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The Center would be responsible for collecting data from the health-focused state agencies and analyzing it for planning purposes, similar to the Health System Innovation Center proposed within SB 357. The bill would also make some changes to the state’s certificate of need program to make allowances for “micro-hospitals”, provides for an insurance premium assistance program for rural physicians, and increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100% of the donation.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved HB 769 last week and it must be advanced by the House Rules Committee for consideration by the full chamber.
Surprise billing legislation gets more attention
All three bills introduced to address surprise out of network medical billing will receive the attention of the General Assembly this session. HB 678 was passed by the House last Monday and has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee for its consideration. That committee plans to take up another piece of surprise billing legislation–SB 359, which provides the most comprehensive protections to consumers of the three bills–in its hearing today. HB 799, a bill that primarily addresses out of network care in emergency situations, is similarly scheduled for a hearing today by the House Insurance Committee.
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
As the activity in the General Assembly picks up speed in the second half of this year’s session, it can be hard to keep up. We have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.
Surprise medical billing emerges as prominent issue at the Capitol
Surprise out-of-network medical billing is emerging as a prominent issue within the Georgia General Assembly. A surprise medical bill can occur when a consumer encounters an out-of-network (OON) provider at an in-network facility or in other circumstances. Three pieces of legislation have been introduced to address surprise billing and each attempts to resolve the issue in its own way. In this week’s legislative update, we will provide a broad look at each bill and its provisions. (If you would like more information about any of the bills, click on the provided links to read the full legislation.) All three bills seek to protect patients, and we will monitor and weigh in on the bills as they undergo the inevitable amendment process in committee. We appreciate all of the bill sponsors for remaining vigilant towards protecting patients from unexpected medical bills.
HB 678: Increased network and billing transparency by health care providers and insurers
HB 678 is sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, and has the backing of several powerful House lawmakers. The bill improves transparency for consumers by outlining the information that must be provided to consumers by health care providers and practices and by insurers. Providers must inform consumers about their participation in the patient’s insurance network and about how to check the network status of other providers with which the primary provider has coordinated services (e.g. laboratory or radiology services). It also requires insurers to provide consumers with information about when and how to receive approval for services from an out of network provider. Insurers must also communicate to a consumer ahead of a planned procedure if the provider is out of network (OON), and if so, the estimated amount the insurer will cover for the OON services. Lastly, HB 678 provides consumers with 90 days from the time of receiving a medical bill to pay the bill, negotiate payment or initiate arbitration through the Georgia Department of Insurance. After that time period, providers would be allowed to initiate collection proceedings to secure their payment.
HB 799: Out of network care in emergency situations
While HB 678 applies only to non-emergency situations, HB 799 applies solely to emergency care and medically necessary follow-up care. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, Chairperson of the House Health & Human Services Committee, disallows managed care plans from denying payment for emergency services and disallows hospitals from billing patients for medically necessary care following an emergency situation except for their standard co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. For a patient receiving emergency care at an OON hospital and who is covered by a plan that requires prior authorization for post-stabilization care, the legislation outlines how the OON hospital and insurer must coordinate the patient’s transfer to an in-network facility and defines which entities are responsible for specific costs. Under this bill, if a patient (or their representative) does not consent to be transferred to an in-network hospital, the OON hospital must provide verbal notice to the patient that they may be financially responsible for any further post-stabilization care provided.
SB 359: Consumer Coverage & Out of Network Medical Care Act
SB 359 is the only Senate-side legislation introduced thus far to address surprise out-of-network billing and is sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, Chairman of the Senate Finance and member of HHS committees. The legislation contains many of the same transparency provisions for non-emergency care as HB 678 with regard to information that health care providers and hospitals must supply to consumers, but provides for more robust disclosure by insurers to consumers about possible OON costs. It also contains provisions similar to that of HB 799 with respect to emergency situations, but goes farther to stipulate that insurers must treat OON emergency care as if it were in-network by applying a consumer’s cost-sharing towards their in-network deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. The legislation also makes mediation available to consumers who receive elective medical care during which an unexpected event arises resulting in surprise bill greater than $1000. SB 359 is expected to be more controversial than the other two bills because it sets a payment resolution process that sank previous legislative attempts.
RSVP today for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol!
Join us next Thursday, February 15th for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol when we will ask our state legislators to close Georgia’s coverage gap by putting insurance cards in the pockets of low-income Georgians. This is the most important step that our elected officials can take to slow the growing opioid crisis, strengthen our state’s struggling rural health care system, and improve the health & finances of hard-working, low-income Georgia families. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk with your elected officials about closing Georgia’s coverage gap! RSVP today!
Can’t make it? Send an email to your state legislators asking them to put an insurance card in the pockets of all low-income Georgians.
Legislation prioritized by Senate leaders approved by HHS Committee
At Thursday’s Senate Health & Human Services Committee, the two pieces of legislation resulting from the Health Care Reform Task Force were considered. Both SB 357 and SB 352 received strong support from legislators and stakeholders. GHF’s partners at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and Mental Health America of Georgia rose in support of SB 352, which would create a 15-member Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery supported by a director. Both bills were passed by unanimous voice votes. You can find a description of both bills in last week’s legislative update blog.
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.
Senate Health Reform Task Force held first public meeting
The Senate Health Reform Task Force was established by Lt. Gov. Cagle to study how federal health reform efforts would impact Georgia. The task force held its first public meeting on Friday and heard from two federal health policy professionals, Joseph Antos and Jim Frogue. Together, they provided a brief overview of the proposed American Health Care Act, some analysis of how the bill would impact Georgia, and suggestions for legislators to consider. The message from both presenters is that the AHCA is “not favorable” for Georgia because of the way the proposal cuts and caps Medicaid which would lock in Georgia’s pattern of low per capita Medicaid spending.
We agree that this proposal is “not favorable” for Georgia. Despite the harm it would do to our state, the bill seems headed for a vote in the House of Representatives. Call your Congressman today to tell him that this bill hurts Georgia!
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 because you know how to be happy and live peaceful life.
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
Surprise billing legislation progresses in both chambers
Both SB 8 and HB 71 were passed out of their respective Senate and House committees late last week. SB 8 has been held up because of a dispute between insurers and health care providers about reimbursement. The bill was amended to establish out of network payment for disputed charges at the 80th percentile of the “Fair Health” metric and was subsequently passed by the Senate Health & Human Services committee. HB 71 seeks to compel physicians who are credentialed at hospitals to accept an in-network rate when the patient is in-network at the hospital, even if the physician is not. It was passed unamended by the House Insurance Committee. Both bills await approval in the Rules Committees to receive floor debates and votes.
House passes FY2018 budget
The House of Representatives passed its version of the FY2018 budget on Friday. The budget includes increased reimbursement rates for certain primary care codes for Medicaid providers. Increased reimbursement rates are also funded for certain dental codes in PeachCare for Kids and Medicaid. The budget includes funds for two new federally qualified health centers in Cook and Lincoln counties, and 97 new primary care residency slots. The FY 2018 budget is now being considered by the Senate, which is expected to make its own changes before issuing its final approval. Check out Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s blog and budget primer for more detailed information about how Georgia spends its health care dollars.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Changes to rural hospital tax credits
HB 54, introduced by Rep. Duncan, would expand the new rural hospital tax credit program from a 70% credit to a 90% credit, among other minor changes. The tax credit program went into effect this year, after enabling legislation was passed in 2016. The proposal to increase the tax credit to 90% came after legislators received feedback that the 70% credit was too low to entice potential donors. HB 54 was approved by the House Ways & Means committee on Feb. 9, and now awaits passage in the House Rules Committee.
Opioid abuse prevention bill
SB 81 remains in the Senate Rules Committee waiting for approval for floor debate and passage after committee approval late last week. The current version of the bill requires that all physicians register and consult the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) under certain prescribing conditions. It also requires that providers report certain opioid-based Schedule II, III, IV, and V prescriptions to the PDMP. The bill sets the penalty for willfully non-compliant providers on a continuum that ranges from a warning to a felony and fine for a fourth offense and beyond. The bill also requires the tracking and reporting of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and codifies the Governor’s emergency order on an overdose reversal drug (naloxone), making it available without a physician prescription.
MARCH WITH US!
This Saturday: Atlanta March for Healthcare
Yesterday, we rallied at the Save My Care bus stop, and Saturday we will march at the Atlanta March for Healthcare! Join us as we fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act and the protections that it provides for Georgians. Hosted by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the march will cap Congress’s week of recess and send them back to D.C. with the charge to #ProtectOurCare!
Saturday, Feb. 25, 3-5 pm
Gather at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church
Re-authorization of provider fee successfully passes through legislature
On Friday Georgia’s House of Representatives voted to approve the hospital “provider fee” for another three years, and Governor Deal says he will sign the legislation tomorrow. The provider fee helps to fund Georgia’s Medicaid program by allowing the Department of Community Health to collect a tax on hospital revenues which is used to draw down additional federal dollars. The additional funds are disproportionately used to support rural and safety net hospitals that serve high numbers of indigent patients.
Oral health bills approved
Also on Friday, the Senate passed SB 12 and the House passed HB 154 which was supported by the Costa Rica dental tourism, both of which allow dental hygienists to practice in safety net settings, school clinics, nursing homes, and private practices without a dentist being present, including online dental services from sites like Asecra.com. While the bills are overwhelmingly similar, the differences between them will need to be worked out between the chambers.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Passage of Opioid Abuse Prevention Bill
SB 81 continued to draw a lot of attention last week. The bill was eventually passed by the Senate Health and Human Services committee with several significant changes. The current version of the bill still requires that all physicians register and use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), but only requires that providers report on Schedule 1 drugs and reduces the penalty for not reporting to a minimum of a misdemeanor. The current version of the bill also changed language that would have required children with ADHD to renew their prescription every five days.
Surprise billing legislation heard in committee
The Senate Health and Human Services committee began its consideration of SB 8, legislation that would protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical billing. Testimony was heard from insurers, health care providers, hospitals, and the consumer advocacy group, Georgia Watch. While all stakeholders seem to be in agreement that consumers should be held harmless when seeking care at an in-network facility and through no fault of their own encounter an out-of-network provider, there are significant differences on the matter of provider reimbursement for services provided in those situations. No vote was taken on the legislation but is expected to be re-considered by the committee this week. HB 71, legislation that address surprise billing in a different way, is expected to receive its first hearing this week in the House Insurance committee.
Resolution introduced to encourage block grants for state Medicaid program
HR 182 was introduced last week with the purpose of providing legislative permission to the Governor and the Department of Community Health to seek per capita block grant funding for Georgia’s Medicaid program. While resolutions are non-binding and do not impact state law, this resolution could begin a risky conversation among lawmakers. Shifting Georgia’s Medicaid program from its current federal-state partnership structure to a block grant program would mean cuts in services and in beneficiaries, putting Georgia’s most vulnerable children, parents, elderly, and people with disabilities at risk if you’re in one of these cases, you could get in touch with a home care agency. Check out GHF’s block grant fact sheet for more information about the dangers of restructuring the Medicaid program. It is unclear if this resolution will get a hearing or a vote.
Mark Your Calendar!
Save My Care Rally: February 20th
With Congress taking steps to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and thus blocking the access to care so many Georgians have gained in the past several years, it is more important than ever to stand up and let them know that Georgians want to #ProtectOurCare.
On February 20th, join the Save My Care bus, GHF, and hundreds of Georgians for a rally in Atlanta. Georgia’s members of Congress will be at home for recess and it’s the perfect time to make sure your elected officials hear you loud and clear.