8 Questions for Health Care Voters to ask Georgia Candidates

Georgians across the state are being asked to decide how they will cast their votes in November for positions such as Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state senator and state representative. The decisions made by voters about these elected positions will directly impact critical consumer health issues in Georgia like access to health care, affordability of health insurance, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system.

As candidates crisscross the state or their districts asking for support, voters will consider their stances on a number of issues including health care. To help voters make their decisions, we have put together this list of questions to ask candidates about five timely and pressing consumer health care issues.

These questions can be used at town halls and candidate forums or posed to candidates via social media or in one-on-one conversations.

  1. Closing the coverage gap
  • Over 240,000 Georgians make too little to receive financial help to buy private health insurance but do not qualify for Medicaid, meaning they fall into the Medicaid coverage gap. Many of the families who fall in the gap are hard-working people who work in industries that make up the backbone of our state: trucking, food service, and childcare. Do you support using federal funds to close the Medicaid coverage gap and offer affordable health coverage to these 240,000 Georgians while boosting the Georgia’s economy? Please explain.
  • A 2016 Department of Health and Human Services study showed that marketplace premiums were on average 7 percent lower in states that extended Medicaid to low-income residents. Do you support closing the Medicaid coverage gap as one method to reduce health care costs and lower the uninsurance rate for consumers in Georgia? Please explain.
  1. Health Insurance Marketplace
  • Health insurance premiums for Georgia consumers will rise by as much as 15 percent in 2019 due to the repeal of the individual mandate by Congress and the elimination of cost-sharing reductions, among other things. If elected, what improvements would you make to our health care system to ensure your constituents have access to high quality, comprehensive and affordable health insurance?
  • The federal government has expanded insurance companies’ ability to sell short-term plans that do not cover key services like mental health treatment or prescription drugs. These plans will increase health care costs and roll back consumer protections that many families in our state depend on. How do you think Georgia should regulate these plans?
  1. Opioid/Substance Use Crisis

In 2016, about three Georgians died each day from drug overdoses and thousands of Georgians live with substance use disorders regularly. To slow this crisis, a broad spectrum of strategies will be needed from prevention and early intervention to expanded access to treatment. If elected, what would you do to address the state’s substance use crisis?

  1. Communities being left behind
  • Seven rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2010. Rural hospitals are often the largest employer in the area and are the economic engines that help to support local small businesses (like the flower shop or pharmacy). If elected, what will you do ensure that rural communities have adequate access to quality, affordable health care?
  • People of color in Georgia have shorter life expectancies, higher rates of chronic disease, and are more likely to be uninsured and live in medically underserved areas. The causes of these outcomes are complex and linked to reduced access to quality education, fewer economic opportunities, discrimination, and other social and economic factors. As (Governor/Insurance Commissioner/other position title), how would you address the health disparities experienced by people of color in Georgia?
  1. Defending Health Care

Over the past two years Congress has repeatedly attempted to repeal the Affordable

Care Act (ACA) and slash federal Medicaid funding that our state relies on, despite the fact that 74 percent of the public view the Medicaid program favorably. If elected, will you support/continue to support the program in the face of threats? Please explain.

 


Did you ask one of these questions to a candidate? Let us know! We want to know which questions were most helpful and how candidates are responding. Email Michelle Conde at mconde@healthyfuturega.org with your feedback.

 

 

*Georgians for a Healthy Future is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization. We do not endorse or support any candidates or political party.


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GHF co-hosts Georgia Voices for Medicaid training with Athens-Clarke County Library

Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted another Georgia Voices for Medicaid training on Friday, August 10th in partnership with the Athens Clarke County Library. The Georgia Voices for Medicaid trainings are designed to give participants the knowledge and skills they need to advocate for timely, important health care issues impacting Georgians.

At last week’s training, participants learned that Georgia’s Medicaid program provides health insurance for half of Georgia’s children, and that it also covers low-income people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women. In Clarke and Barrow counties, 15,830 and 10,845 residents respectively are covered through Medicaid. Alyssa Green, GHF’s Outreach & Education Manager, shared testimonials from several Georgians who are covered by Medicaid to demonstrate the real benefits of coverage to training participants. Alyssa also introduced ways that participants can advocate for the health care issues that matter most to them, like protecting and improving the Medicaid program or bringing down health care costs.

The training concluded with an invitation for attendees to continue their health care advocacy work with GHF’s new Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) program. GHAN is a volunteer-led program that fosters and supports grassroots health advocates who work alongside GHF to reach a day when all Georgians have access to the quality, affordable health care they need to live healthy lives and contribute to the health of their communities.

If you were unable to attend this Georgia Voices for Medicaid event, check out our upcoming trainings or contact Alyssa at agreen@healthyfuturega.org or 404-567-5016, ext. 2 to schedule a training in your community. You can also contact Alyssa learn more about GHF’s new Georgia Health Action Network.


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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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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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Five reasons Georgia should follow Virginia’s example

Last week, Virginia became the latest state to expand health care coverage to low-income adults when the Virginia legislature voted to close the its coverage gap and Governor Northam signed the new budget. More than 400,000 Virginians are expected to gain coverage as a result, and the state anticipates declines in uncompensated care costs for hospitals, an increase in people receiving needed health services, and greater financial security for those set to gain coverage. The vote comes after years of advocacy and engagement from constituents and advocates who worked to convey to legislators the importance of health coverage and the impact the change would have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.

Unlike Virginians, 240,000 hard-working Georgians cannot yet look forward to putting a health insurance card in their pockets. These friends and neighbors make too little to get financial help to buy health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid in Georgia, leaving them stuck in the state’s coverage gap.

Georgia remains one of 17 states that is still refusing billions in federal health care dollars to provide health coverage to low-income adults in the state. As in Virginia, Georgia’s Governor and state legislature can choose to close the coverage gap at any time, and here are five reasons they should do so as soon as possible:

  1. Thousands of Georgians would gain health coverage–240,000 Georgians would gain the peace of mind, access to care, and financial protection that insured Georgians have. These Georgians make less than $12,140 a year  or $20,780 for a family of three. Most are working in sectors like retail, child care, construction, and food service, low-paying jobs that do not come with benefits.
  2. Georgia’s rural hospitals are economic anchor institutions–rural communities need their hospitals to provide accessible healthcare, sustain well-paid jobs, and facilitate economic stability. Closing the coverage gap would create at least 12,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in new activity in Georgia’s rural communities each year.
  3. The resulting job growth is greater than what the state would gain by attracting Amazon’s HQ2–extending health coverage to more Georgians would create 56,000 new jobs across the state, more than the 50,000 jobs that Amazon is promising at its second headquarters. Even better, the new jobs would be scattered across the state rather than concentrated in and around Atlanta.
  4. Georgia’s tax dollars are currently sitting unused in Washington, D.C.–By refusing to extend health insurance to low-income Georgians, the state is missing out on $8 million per day ($3 billion dollars per year). Instead of giving up hard-earned tax dollars, Georgia’s policy makers could bring that money back to the state to help low-income parents, veterans, and workers put health insurance cards in their wallets.
  5. It is the biggest step Georgia can take to slow the substance use crisisOne quarter (25%) of Georgians who fall in the coverage gap are estimated to have a mental illness or substance use disorder. If they were covered by health insurance, treatment and recovery services would be within reach, allowing them to resume full, healthy lives. As a result, 36,000 fewer Georgians each year would experience symptoms of depression and the state could make significant progress in addressing its ongoing substance use crisis.

 

After five years of delay, Virginia’s leaders made the right decision and as a result, 400,000 Virginians will see healthier futures. Now is the time for Georgia’s decision makers to follow suite by putting 240,000 insurance cards in wallets all across the state.

 

Virginia State Capitol Image  – Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography


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Moms need Medicaid

Valerie is a mother of three children living in Lamar County. Medicaid covers all three of Valerie’s children, and they rely on the health coverage it provides for their varying health needs. Valerie sometimes has difficulty accessing the care and information the family needs because they live in a rural area, but acknowledges that Medicaid is a lifeline that makes it possible for her to focus on her family’s other needs. Without health insurance through Medicaid, Valerie would have to pay hefty medical bills to ensure her children receive the care they require.

 

Susie is the sole caretaker of her young granddaughter, but she has a hard time caring for herself because she is stuck in Georgia’s coverage gap. She makes more than $6300 annually, so she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid coverage as a caregiver, and she doesn’t make enough to receive financial help to buy health insurance through the Marketplace. Susie is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but because she lacks health coverage, Susie is only able to receive cancer treatments from a doctor that allows her to make low monthly payments. Susie has other chronic health issues that need to be managed but finds it difficult to receive consistent care without insurance. Because Georgia’s elected officials have not extended Medicaid to cover caregivers like Susie, she struggles to care for herself while working to ensure her young granddaughter receives the care and support she needs to grow up healthy and thrive.

Medicaid provides access to needed health care services for low-income soon-to-be-moms, new mothers, and very low-income parents of minor children. For moms like Valerie, Medicaid makes being a mom a little easier by ensuring that their children have access to the health care services they need to grow and stay healthy. For others, Medicaid would help them get or stay healthy so they can best fulfill the responsibilities of being a mothers or caregivers. Over 150,000 uninsured women like Susie would gain health insurance if Georgia’s decision makers extended Medicaid to cover low-income adults (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three).


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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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GHF and Step Up Savannah partner to host health advocacy training

Georgians for a Healthy future partnered with Step Up Savannah to host a health advocacy training on Tuesday, April 3rd.  Advocates learned how they could participate and lead health advocacy efforts in their own community and received information about pressing health advocacy issues in Georgia. Representatives from Healthy Savannah and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council were also in attendance to share local resources.

The significance of Medicaid was highlighted throughout the event. Participants learned that Medicaid primarily covers low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women, including 40,000 of Chatham County residents. Alyssa Green, GHF’s Outreach & Education Manager, discussed Georgia’s opportunity close the coverage gap so that 240,000 more Georgians would have access to health insurance coverage. Alyssa shared the story of a Georgia woman who works part-time at DisabilityLINK but is stuck in the coverage gap and, as a result, has trouble managing her high blood pressure.

GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert introduced ways that people can advocate for the health care issues that matter most to them, like increased access to healthcare, bringing down health care costs, and protecting the Medicaid program. She explained how to build a relationship with legislator, communicate support or opposition for significant bills, and other forms of advocacy.

The training concluded with presentations from the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and Healthy Savannah. The two Savannah-based organizations provided participants with information and resources to promote and build a healthy local community.

 

If you are interested in hosting a training like this in your community, please contact Alyssa Green at agreen@healthyfuturega.org or 404-567-5016 x 2 for more information.


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Another successful Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol

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!


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2018 Legislative Update: Week 4

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.


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