Less expensive coverage comes with more risks “The administration’s rule change is dangerous for Georgia consumers,’’ said Laura Colbert of Georgians for a Healthy Future
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Suicide is third leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds in Georgia. In order to combat this growing issue Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Out of that appropriation, $1,092,000 was directed to suicide prevention efforts, which will in part go towards expanding the capacity of the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL). GCAL provides 24/7 online and telephone support for Georgians who are seeking services for or in crisis as a result of developmental disabilities, mental health, or substance use conditions.
GCAL connects callers with trained professionals and clinicians who screen and assess the severity of callers’ need for service. The GCAL operators then provide the appropriate assistance, referrals to necessary services, or dispatch crisis services when needed. The call center can:
- Provide telephonic crisis intervention services,
- Dispatch mobile crisis teams or emergency services when needed,
- Assist individuals in finding an open crisis or detox bed across the state,
- Link individuals with urgent appointment services,
- Help individuals find a mental health, substance use treatment, or developmental disability provider in their area in a non-emergency; and
- Connect families and individuals with community-based support services.
GCAL also provides language assistance for people with limited English proficiency.
Even though GCAL’s name includes the word “crisis,” consumers do not need to be in crisis to call or visit the website. As mentioned above. GCAL provides non-emergency or crisis services. Call center staff are available to answer routine questions about behavioral health and provide callers with a choice of providers and assistance in scheduling appointments for service.
Georgia consumers can call 1-800-715-4225 or visit mygcal.com if they or someone they care for is facing a behavioral health crisis or in need of services. For more on how GCAL is making a difference in the lives of individuals and their families, check out this video from Voices for Georgia’s Children.
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!
Georgia currently ranks 51st in children’s mental health services but an infusion of dollars into Georgia’s system of care is expected to have a positive impact around the state. Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Of that allotment, $4.3 million are dedicated to fund 13 additional grants for 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 behavioral health needs.
Nearly one in ten Georgia children ages 2 to 17 years have one or more diagnosed emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions and these conditions become more prevalent as children hit adolescence. Behavioral health issues can manifest in chronic absenteeism, classroom disruption, discipline issues, or other adverse behaviors at school, which can prevent young people from being academically successful.
To address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s students, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) launched the Georgia Apex Program in 2015 to “[create] partnerships between community-based mental health providers and local schools to provide school-based mental health services.” The three main goals of the Apex Program are:
- To increase access to mental health services for children and youth;
- To provide early detection of child and adolescent mental health needs; and
- To increase coordination between community-based mental health providers and the local schools and districts they serve.
The Apex Program places mental health providers in schools to provide services like screening, assessment, counseling and therapy, and referrals to community support services like youth club houses. The program began with 29 community health providers in 104 Georgia schools, and as of February 2018, the program had expanded to 320 schools. Over the first two years of the program, more than 5000 students who had not previously received mental health services were screened and provided with the appropriate services and supports for their needs.
More than three quarters (76%) of the schools served by the Apex Program are located in rural areas where behavioral health services are more limited, and almost half (46.6%) are located in elementary schools so that services are available to younger students, when behavioral health conditions are often less severe and more treatable.
In addition to increasing access to care for students in need, the program has demonstrated success by integrating into a variety of school settings and improving coordination and communication between providers and school staff. Further, providers are able to bill for 75-90% of the students served each month, indicating the model may be financially sustainable.
The Georgia Apex Program is a promising model that brings mental health care services to Georgia children, reducing barriers to health care and improving their chances for academic success.
To learn more about the Georgia Apex Program:
- Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Children, Young Adults and Families or email email@example.com
- Read the resources available at Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
- Watch the video below from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and see how the Georgia Apex Program is making a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted an educational forum titled Strong Foundations: Building a System of Care to Address the Behavioral Health Needs of Georgia Children on Tuesday, May 15. The forum explored 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. The event also raised awareness about Georgia’s system of care in an effort to improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth.
The event began with Respect Institute speaker Tammie Harrison, who shared her experiences navigating the behavioral health care system and getting to a place of recovery.
Because many of the event attendees were new to the topic of children’s behavioral health (BH), GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided some foundational information about the prevalence of children’s BH conditions, contributors to poor BH, and the pathways to BH care and supports for young Georgians. You can find Laura’s PowerPoint slides here. She also debuted GHF’s new behavioral health fact sheet.
Dante McKay, Director of the Office of Children, Young Adults, & Families at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provided attendees with an overview of DBHDD’s work, the 2017 System of Care state plan, and how the recently signed FY19 budget would impact the department’s ability to serve Georgia children and youth.
Dr. Erica Fener-Sitkoff, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children moderated a panel discussion of BH service providers, which included Wendy Farmer of Behavioral Health Link, Laura Lucas of Project LAUNCH (DBHDD), and Monica McGannon of CHRIS 180. The panelists discussed barriers to accessing BH services, which they said include continued stigma, lack of trained workforce, and transportation. The panel also identified innovative efforts, like Project LAUNCH and mobile crisis services, to bring BH services closer to consumers when and where they need it. When asked how Georgia’s next Governor could continue to make progress in the area of children’s behavioral health, panelists suggested a focus on workforce development, increasing access to community-based substance use treatment for teens, and prevention and early intervention.
If you missed the event, a recording of the webcast is available here.
To see photos, review materials, and read more about our Strong Foundations event, please visit the event page.
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).
I am a graduate student in the Public Health program at Georgia State University. As a part of my coursework, I completed a semester-long practicum with Georgians for a Healthy Future as the Legislative Health Policy Intern.
In my academic program, I have spent extensive time learning about health policy, the legislative process, and the healthcare landscape in the United States. While covering those topics in a classroom setting was informative, seeing the legislative process first hand was invaluable. During my time with Georgians for a Healthy Future, I had the privilege of experiencing the legislative process by visiting the Capitol for committee and advocacy meetings, tracking legislation, and meeting policy makers and advocates.
Some of what I learned in the classroom applied to my work at GHF, but I found that there are some things you can only learn through experience. I was surprised by the length of time that legislators spend discussing some bills. Minutia in bill language could be debated for a whole two-hour meeting, while some key details might be voted on within minutes. I often felt a rollercoaster of emotions as a passionate hearing drew my sympathy for a given issue, while opposition pushed back on the bill. Spending time in committee hearings solidified my understanding that health policy often lies in gray areas, despite initially appearing to be black and white.
In my time at Georgians for a Healthy Future, I have learned a great deal about the organization and working in advocacy. Something that surprised me about GHF is the great value of the small things they do, such as encouraging constituents to call their legislators, sharing facts and resources with partner organizations, and talking to consumers. Their efforts often go unseen by the general public but have significant implications for the citizens of Georgia. I have seen the fruits of their labors, and it excites me to know there is an organization working so hard to protect and give a voice to our most vulnerable Georgians. Their partner organizations are equally inspiring in working to better the health of people in the state.
look forward to taking my GHF experience and knowledge with me into the public health field. I have gained a greater understanding of health policy and how bills get passed. I have learned the importance of advocacy and that every person can have a voice. I have learned that there are so many deeply passionate, caring, and hard-working individuals working towards health equity in Georgia. I have learned that the road to policy is often long, but the payoff is worth the time and effort. I will take these lessons with me as I move into my career, and work towards the goal of creating a healthier state and nation for everyone.
MPH Candidate 2017
Georgia State University
Last week, GHF was on the road again traveling to Athens for UGA’s annual State of Public Health conference. The SOPH conference is a chance for public health researchers, practitioners, and students to share and learn about the newest public health initiatives and research happening across Georgia. We were excited to be featured as a presenter among other experts, advocates, and leaders in Georgia’s public health domain.
In a workshop dedicated to the Affordable Care Act, GHF teamed up with Georgia Watch to talk about Marketplace enrollment efforts in Georgia. The presentation was based on GHF’s “Getting Georgia Covered” report, which explored the successes and barriers to outreach and enrollment efforts in Open Enrollment 2. We also previewed the upcoming open enrollment period, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, and advocated for closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
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The other presenters in the workshop, including another presentation from our partner Georgia Watch, comprehensively covered the new ACA requirement for hospitals to complete a community health needs assessment (CHNA) of their service area every 2-3 years and how that is being implemented in Georgia. The workshop generated some excellent questions and constructive conversation about these two very different aspects of the ACA.
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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.