“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.
As the health care debate ramped up in Washington, February’s Congressional recess presented opportunities for Georgia’s health care advocates to voice their concerns about plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. GHF participated in two events that highlighted the progress that has been made in Georgia under the ACA and the need to build on its successes rather than repeal it.
The week began with a rally as the Save My Care bus tour stopped at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia Capitol. House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams energized the crowed and spoke of the importance of health care for every Georgian. GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin reminded the audience that because of the ACA the uninsured rate in the US is lower than it has ever been before and that new consumer protections provided to Georgians with pre-existing conditions, LGBT Georgians, and low-income families helped to narrow disparities in health care access. Georgia consumers Jan and Vicki shared their stories of how the ACA has helped them access the health care they needed when they needed it. You can watch the full rally here.
On Saturday, GHF marched at the Atlanta March for Healthcare organized by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice. Marchers traveled down Peachtree Street from Midtown to downtown’s Woodruff Park where a rally was held. Along with partner organizations active on health care issues, Cindy reminded those at the rally of how much progress had resulted from the ACA and how interconnected health care is to other social justice issues like racial, gender, and economic equality.
GHF will continue to work to #ProtectOurCare as Congress attempts to pass the American Health Care Act, a proposal that attempts to cut and cap Medicaid and increase costs for low-income families and older Georgians. We hope you’ll join us to rally, march, call, and organize for affordable, accessible, high quality health care for all Georgians.
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
Be a part of the movement to #ProtectOurCare! Georgia’s members of Congress are back home this week, and we want to show them that health matters to Georgians. Tomorrow, we’ll say that loud and clear with a rally hosted by the Save My Care bus tour. The bus has been touring the country to hear about why health matters to people like you and to tell Congress to save our health care! Join GHF, the Save My Care team, Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and others to tell Congress to #ProtectOurCare!
If you can’t be at the rally, we still have you covered!
Connect with your members of Congress
One of the best ways for you to tell your members of Congress to #ProtectOurCare is to speak directly with them or their staff. This week contains several opportunities to meet your elected officials and their teams in person. Click here to see if your members of Congress are hosting an event in your area. Can’t make it to the events or your members of Congress aren’t hosting any? You can call (or email) their offices to share your thoughts. Click here for a list of phone numbers and a suggested script if you don’t quite know what to say.
Don’t know who your members of Congress are? Click here to find out. (Your members of Congress are listed in the second row on the page.)
Share your story with us
Stories from people like you who have benefited from the ACA or Medicaid are incredibly powerful! When you share your story, it helps others understand how a policy might impact their family or friends, and why its important. Your story can help shape the conversation about health care access in Georgia. Let us know if you have coverage through the ACA Marketplace or Medicaid. We want to hear from you!
Join the conversation
It’s more important than ever that Georgians have the facts and information that they need to form smart opinions on policies that will impact their health care. Join us on Twitter and Facebook this week. We will be talking about how the ACA and Medicaid have impacted Georgia, and what is at stake in the proposed plans to roll back health care access in our state. Get started by signing our petition to #ProtectOurCare and sharing it with your social media networks!
Georgians for a Healthy Future will be at the Capitol throughout the forty-day session to monitor health-related legislation, serve as a voice for health care consumers, and keep you informed about opportunities to engage and take action. For the past four years, our top legislative priority had been closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. In the wake of the 2016 election, the national policy landscape has shifted considerably, knocking that off the table this year and placing existing coverage, care, and consumer protections at risk. Despite this backdrop of uncertainty and a critical need for federal advocacy, there will be important decisions made over the next three months at the state level that impact the health of individuals, families, and communities.
While it is early, here are the major health care issues we preliminarily expect legislators to tackle in 2017:
- Renewal of the provider fee commonly known as the “hospital tax” or “bed tax” to help fund Medicaid and keep hospital doors open
- Development of a set of reforms to improve mental health services based on the recommendations of a legislative study committee that has been meeting over the past several months
- Creation of a “repeal” task force to assess the impact of changes to or repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Georgia
- Addressing the practice of surprise medical billing, which can leave insured consumers with unexpected bills when a health care provider is out-of-network
- Increasing reimbursement rates for certain primary care services for health care providers participating in Medicaid
- Improving access to dental care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities
Georgians for a Healthy Future has several ways for you to stay up-to-date on what’s happening under the Gold Dome this year:
- Learn: Download our 2017 policy priorities, read up on how the legislative process works, and track health-related legislation
- Engage: Sign up for our Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) action alerts
- Participate: Identify and contact your specific legislators on issues you care about
Stay tuned for updates throughout the session.
The President-Elect and Congressional leadership are already working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but have not yet communicated what a replacement might be. Repealing the law without an adequate replacement would do great harm to consumers, destabilize Georgia’s health insurance market, and stress our health care delivery system. Approximately one million Georgians would lose their health insurance by 2019, bringing the number of uninsured in our state to a staggering 2.4 million people – more than before the ACA was passed. Millions more would lose their basic rights and protections as consumers, and access to care would be at risk. We could lose:
- Protections for people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more or from being barred from coverage. Pre-existing conditions include chronic diseases like diabetes, mental health conditions, asthma, cancer, and more
- Protections that keep women from being charged more than men
- Free preventive care
- The ability to keep young adults on their parent’s plan until age 26
- Financial protections that limit the amount of money consumers must pay out-of-pocket each year for care and that keep insurers from limiting lifetime benefits
- Anti-discrimination provisions that protect consumers based on sex, gender identity, language spoken, or country of origin
- Health insurance navigators who offer free, local, unbiased assistance to help people find the health care coverage that works best for them
We seem to be approaching cross-over day at the speed of light! Last week saw progress towards increasing provider directory transparency, Medicaid payment parity, ending surprise out-of-network billing, and even closing the coverage gap! Check out our updates below. If you’re looking for a complete list of all the bills we’re following, click here.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK
The Provider Directory Improvement Act (SB 302)
Last Thursday, the Provider Directory Improvement Act was passed unanimously out of the Senate Insurance and Labor committee. The bill now goes to the Rules Committee. We’re excited about the progress made and will keep you posted as the bill continues to move through the process. You can review our fact sheet on SB 302 and read our longer policy brief on the importance of accurate provider directories here.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
Last week, the Georgia Legislature held its first-ever hearing on closing the coverage gap. Closing the gap is the most important step our state policymakers can take to lower the number of uninsured, improve access to care, and stabilize the rural health infrastructure in our state. The hearing focused on discussion of SB 368, legislation introduced by Sen. Rhett to extend coverage to low-income, uninsured Georgians. While some pieces of the bill are problematic and the committee took no action, they started an important conversation. If you are interested in getting involved in the movement to close the gap, join our Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) to receive updates on how you can help! If your organization supports closing the gap, please consider joining the Cover Georgia coalition to help amplify your voice.
Surprise Out-of-Network Billing
On February 16th, Sen. Unterman introduced SB 382, the Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act. This bill has been scheduled for a hearing today at 3:00 PM in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Addressing surprise out-of-network billing is an important issue for Georgia consumers, and the legislation is complex. Sen. Unterman has simultaneously also introduced SR 974, the Senate Surprise Billing Study Committee. Should SB 382 not move during this session, SR 974 provides legislators with the opportunity to study this important consumer issue during the off-session period.
Medicaid Payment Parity
The governor’s budget, introduced earlier this legislative session, maintained last year’s partial Medicaid payment parity. Full Medicaid parity would allow doctors to be reimbursed at the same rates for seeing Medicaid patients as Medicare patients. Last week, $26.5 million was added to the FY 2017 budget for this purpose. While this does not restore full parity, it is a significant step towards that goal. The FY 2017 budget has passed in the House and goes to the Senate for consideration.
Rep. Duncan’s HB 919 would provide up to $250 million in tax credits to individuals or corporations for contributions to rural health care organizations. This legislation has sparked a conversation about the ever worsening plight of our rural hospitals. However, state funding could be better utilized by helping those in rural communities get health insurance coverage, an approach which would also draw down considerable federal dollars (at least $9 in federal funding for every $1 of state funding). This would be much more effective in reducing the uncompensated care burden of rural hospitals, while also providing patients with the benefits of health coverage, something that HB 919 does not accomplish in its current form. Because of this session’s multiple bills that attempt to address Georgia’s uninsured population and health care infrastructure, we hope that lawmakers will take this opportunity to consider these issues in tandem through a study committee. This will allow all stakeholders to take part in an open conversation about how to best utilize state and federal dollars to save our rural hospital and provide quality health care to all Georgians.
In this week’s Consumer Health Advocacy Today, we sit down with Sen. Rhett to talk about his proposal to close the coverage gap. Here’s what he had to say.
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.