"These gaps really make it so that Georgians can't afford needed health care. If they receive health care, they're left with medical debt, or they have to make really tough…
By Dr. Harry J. Heiman and Cindy Zeldin
This column was originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on August 26, 2011.
The recent debt-ceiling debate and prime-time display of our elected leaders’ inability to work together epitomized the challenges of advancing thoughtful and impactful public policies. Following the deal in Congress, news coverage quickly moved to speculation about the “super committee,” tasked with slashing an additional $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. Lost in the coverage, and seemingly in the discussion, has been the potential impact of the committee’s decisions on vital services for the most vulnerable in our communities. At a time when the number of people without health insurance continues to rise, Medicaid and other programs that support health care access for low-income children, families, and the disabled remain at risk.
Reduced federal and state funding for Medicaid and the health safety net would be particularly traumatic for Georgia, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn and suffers from high poverty, high unemployment, and high rates of uninsured people. Nearly two million Georgians — one in five — are uninsured, and more than one in six live in poverty. These numbers are even worse in many of Georgia’s rural and inner-city communities. At 37 percent, Athens-Clarke County has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the state. The consequence of these worsening economic indicators is increased distress experienced by Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. This distress is reflected in Georgia’s dismal health indicators: high obesity rates, high infant mortality rates and overall poor health outcomes.
Georgia is currently weighing options to determine whether it should establish a health insurance exchange. Authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the goal behind these competitive health insurance marketplaces is to better facilitate competition and choice for health care consumers. Today, Georgians for a Healthy Future is releasing an issue brief entitled Building Georgia’s Health Insurance Exchange that outlines how a health insurance exchange can benefit Georgia consumers and makes recommendations for our policymakers as they weigh design options for an exchange.
Building Georgia’s Health Insurance Exchange addresses the following questions:
- Who is eligible for the health insurance exchange?
- What types of insurance plans will be available on the exchange?
- How will consumers afford the products offered on the exchange?
- What will Georgia’s exchange look like?
- How will the exchange benefit Georgia consumers?
- What should policymakers focus on to build a successful exchange?
- What is the timeline for implementing an exchange?
Building Georgia’s Health Insurance Exchange recommends the following policy goals for an exchange:
- Create a governance structure that can transparently and effectively oversee the exchange without any conflict of interests; insurance companies or other businesses that have a direct financial stake should not serve on the governing body
- Provide structured choices that supply the information and tools consumers need to make optimal purchasing decisions, including quality and customer satisfaction ratings as well as information about price and benefits
- Create incentives for insurance companies to compete based on value rather than by selecting the healthiest applicants: consider leveraging volume within the exchange to drive better deals with insurance companies; consider crafting exchange participation rules to allow the highest quality and value plans to participate; and align regulations inside and outside the exchange to eliminate incentives to steer consumers outside the exchange
- Serve as an easy-to-use, one-stop-shop and provide navigation assistance to programs like PeachCare for KidsTM and Medicaid where appropriate to ensure that all individuals and families eligible for these programs enroll
- Develop a robust outreach and enrollment mechanism to ensure that low-income and minority communities that historically have had the highest rates of uninsurance are engaged and that consumers in rural areas, without internet access, or with limited English proficiency can still enroll in the plan that best meets their needs
The full issue brief is available here.
In recent years, Georgia consumers have seen their health insurance premiums increase more quickly than their earnings, placing a strain on household budgets. Further, consumers haven’t had access to adequate information to know if these rate hikes are justified. Thanks to requirements and resources available through the Affordable Care Act, Georgia’s Insurance Department has expressed its intent to operate a rate review program to scrutinize proposed insurance premium rate increases of ten percent or more to comply with the law. We hope that Georgia will utilize this program on behalf of consumer to the fullest extent possible to spur insurers to operate more transparently and more fairly in the market. Georgia’s intention to operate rate review was first reported by Georgia Health News. Link is available here.
The Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee, charged with determining whether Georgia should establish a state-based health insurance exchange, held its second formal meeting on July 12th. During the morning session, the committee heard from two existing small business exchanges, HealthPass in New York and Florida Health Choices, to help inform the committee’s work. In the afternoon session, the committee discussed potential pros and cons of developing a small business and/or individual health insurance exchange in Georgia. Committee meetings are open to the public, and the next committee meeting will be held on August 16th (time and location TBD). There are also two upcoming small business listening sessions, one taking place in Albany on July 20th and one in Dalton on 26th of July. For more information on these sessions, email Amanda Ptashkin. The committee is to make preliminary recommendations to the Governor by September 15th and final recommendations by December 15th. Georgia Health News covered this week’s meeting (article here), and all meeting materials are posted on the state’s health reform website here. This week, the federal Department of Health and Human Services released a proposed rule on exchanges, providing additional flexibility for states as they move forward with their exchange planning. Information about the rule is available here, and a summary analysis from the Health Affairs blog is available here.
The Georgia Department of Community Health Board met earlier this week and approved a .5 percent cut in reimbursement rates for providers participating in the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs (final adoption of rules). The board also proposed increasing co-payments for Medicaid patients and adding co-payments for the first time for PeachCare for Kids patients ages 6 and older (initial adoption of rules). Both changes reflect decisions made by the General Assembly during the 2011 Legislative Session. However, there is concern among advocates and health care providers that these changes will diminish access to care. For more information about these changes, see a recent Georgia Health News article here and a recent AJC article here. For materials from the Department of Community Health board meeting and information about upcoming meetings, click here.
Gayathri Suresh Kumar, M.D
Georgia State Director, Doctors for America
The House’s proposed budget plan to reduce federal support for Medicaid by converting it into a block grant program is the most absurd idea. As a physician at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, I provide care for many patients who are dependent upon Medicaid for their well-being. Without Medicaid, what would happen to my patients? Would they stop coming to their appointments or picking up their medications knowing they no longer can afford health care? What if their medical conditions spiral out of control and they seek help at a stage where it may be too late for me to provide meaningful care? (more…)
Georgians for a Healthy Future has a new fact sheet out today about how to access health insurance in Georgia. Please share with patients, consumers, providers, community organizations, or anyone for whom it can serve as a resource. The fact sheet can be downloaded by clicking here.
By Cindy Zeldin
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Earlier this month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order creating the Georgia Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee, which is charged with determining whether Georgia should establish a state-based health exchange.
If well crafted, a Georgia insurance exchange has the potential to increase transparency, present clear and meaningful choices, and promote better value for consumers who don’t have access to a health plan at work.
The Affordable Care Act authorized state-level health insurance exchanges, providing a basic framework and initial funding. By 2014, each state’s exchange must be able to enroll individuals and small businesses into health insurance plans and certify that plans meet certain requirements, such as an adequate provider network and an essential benefits package. Within this framework, Georgia has considerable flexibility to fashion a structure that best meets our state’s individual needs like luxury. Luxurious cars, great clothes, Tahitian Necklace, and houses. When you want to have the most comfortable beds and mattress, avail the black friday casper mattress for maximum comfort.
Guest Blog by Michelle Putnam, HealthSTAT
If you think you’d like to get a physical or a check-up in 2014, you better make your appointment now. That’s what some would have you believe about the shortage of doctors come 2014, when health coverage will be expanded to about 33 million more people. The truth is, Georgia has long experienced a workforce shortage, ranking behind most states in the ratio of patients to physicians, nurses, and physicians assistants. The problem is three-pronged: we do not have enough health professionals choosing to practice primary care, we do not have an adequate collaborative care system, and our health professional students do not receive enough interdisciplinary education.
By Jesse Connolly, Campaign Director for the Campaign for Better Care
Last week, I traveled to Atlanta for a roundtable discussion with patients, health care providers and consumer advocates, organized by our colleagues at the Georgia Campaign for Better Care (following the campaign supporing private schools in Atlanta). Dr. Don Berwick, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), brought a national perspective and a distinguished health care background to the panel. But another panelist, Yolanda Chancellor, brought something that was, in its way, even more powerful: a handful of newspaper clippings.