Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the mass health insurance loss “spotlights a real weakness in our health system.” “On the other…
Guest Blog By Holly Lang
In January 2009, Georgia Watch was awarded a two-year grant to help expand access to affordable health care to uninsured and underinsured consumers in the metro area. Called the Metropolitan Atlanta Hospital Accountability Project, or HAP, we’ll examine the challenges low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients face in the metro Atlanta area by surveying consumers, by analyzing the financial aid policies at area for profit and nonprofit hospitals, and by looking at current public policies that force hospitals to give free or low-cost care to the state’s uninsured and underinsured consumers. We’ll come up with ways to make those policies better.
Georgia has the sixth-highest number of residents without health insurance in the US and ranks 11th in its percentage of the population lacking coverage, according to a 2008 report from the Georgia State University’s Health Policy Center and the Center for Health Services Research. According to the report, only one in five individuals living below poverty have private insurance and nearly 38 percent are uninsured.
Even so, many uninsured patients who do qualify for federal and state financial assistance programs do not utilize those programs. For example, in Fulton County, an estimated 20 percent of the county’s uninsured population qualify for existing public options such as Medicaid or PeachCare but were not enrolled in 2007.
As the state’s leading nonprofit consumer advocacy group, we feel it is our responsibility to make sure Georgia’s consumers were empowered to handle the complex and confusing health care industry. It’s a market where consumers are perpetually at a disadvantage as it differs from other consumer-driven industries due to a lack of clear pricing and information, a lack of choice in most Georgia markets, the role of insurance in health care choices and the complexity and importance of health care treatment. We feel that more oversight, transparency, accountability and efforts to increase affordability and access are necessary to restore fairness for consumers.
In 2007, we began authoring reports on safety net hospitals in the state, beginning with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. Since then, we’ve authored four other reports on other large nonprofits: Memorial University Medical Center (Savannah), Floyd Medical Center (Albany), Northside Hospital (Atlanta) and the Medical Center of Central Georgia (Macon).
For our new Metropolitan Atlanta Hospital Accountability Project, we’ve teamed up with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Concerned Black Clergy, Georgia Legal Services Program, Atlanta Legal Aid Society and WonderRoot to achieve our goals. National health care policy group Community Catalyst provided the funding for this grant, as well as funding for similar projects in 14 other states. We are examining hospitals and talking to consumers in the following counties: Barrow, Bartow, Butts, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Haralson, Henry, Jasper, Meriwether, Newton, Paulding, Pickens, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton.
Through this project, we will author a comprehensive report examining specific challenges facing uninsured and underinsured consumers in the metro area based on research, the results of a consumer survey and publicly available information; promote public and hospital policy that will make uniform financial assistance eligibility requirements and patient notification, as well as promote policy that will require certain standards in regards to financial assistance and community benefits; serve as a resource to lawmakers, the public and the media on the topic of insurance and affordable health care; and, launch an educational campaign for the general public, lawmakers and media that not only utilizes our research and analysis in an easy-to-use manner, but also offers information on various programs that offer medical financial assistance, preventative care and alternatives to costly hospital care.