GHF kicks off 2019 with Health Care Unscrambled breakfast

Georgians for a Healthy Future’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled breakfast built on previous years’ successes with another standing room-only crowd.

This year’s program began with a personal story from consumer Lori Murdock, who bravely shared her experience struggling to manage a chronic disease without health insurance because she was caught in Georgia’s coverage gap. Lori’s experience illustrates the pressing need to provide health insurance to all Georgians regardless of income.

 

Following Lori was our bipartisan legislative panel. This year’s legislative panelists were:

Each panelist provided updates on emerging health care trends impacting Georgia and took questions from the audience about what health issues are likely to be taken up in the 2019 legislative session. Topics included Medicaid expansion, surprise out of network medical billing, access to mental health,  network adequacy, Certificate of Need reform, social determinants of health, rural health care access, federal health care reform, and affordability of health care. All three panelists shared an optimistic vision for health care in this years legislative session.

This year’s key note speaker was Dr. David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund. Dr. Blumenthal brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to our conversation about how innovations in health care and coverage can help us achieve better health outcomes for all Georgians. He led the discussion by comparing Georgia’s health outcomes to those of our neighboring states, and then provided an agenda for improvement. He emphasized that Georgia is unlikely to overcome poor health outcomes unless state leadership improves insurance coverage, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Fund’s own research on Medicaid expansion’s impacts on population health. Dr. Blumenthal also shared the importance of investments in the social determinants of health for improving health outcomes and ultimately saving money. Dr. Blumenthal’s presentation can be accessed here and the Georgia scorecard from the Commonwealth Fund can be found here.

To see photos, review materials, and get more information about this year’s Health Care Unscrambled event, please visit the event page.

For more event pictures visit our Facebook photo album. 


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GHF releases 2019 policy priorities

Georgians for a Healthy Future released its 2019 policy priorities at this morning’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled legislative breakfast. These annual priorities outline the issues that GHF believes are most pressing for Georgia consumers and are best addressed by the state legislature. GHF will work to move all of these issues forward by engaging state policy makers, consumers, and coalition partners throughout the legislative session and the remainder of the year.

1. Increase the number of Georgians with health insurance.

Georgia’s uninsured rate hit a historic low of 12.9% in 2016, but remains one of the highest uninsured rates in the country because Georgia has not accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians. Approximately 240,000 Georgians remain stuck in the resulting coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports closing this gap by extending health insurance to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

2. Stabilize Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace

Almost half a million Georgians are enrolled in health care coverage through the health insurance Marketplace. While Georgia’s Marketplace has proven robust, the last two years have brought declines in enrollments, as federal policy changes have undercut its stability. Other states have taken steps to shore up their markets by implementing state reinsurance programs, instituting state-level consumer protections and enforcement mechanisms, limiting the sale of short-term junk plans, and investing in outreach & enrollment. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that promote affordable, comprehensive coverage and a competitive, stable Marketplace.

3. Ensure access to care and financial protections for consumers purchasing private health insurance.

When consumers enroll in a health insurance plan, they should have reasonable access to all covered services in the plan. As narrow provider networks become more common, health care consumers are at increased risk of not being able to access the medical services and providers they need without going out-of-network and receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills. In 2015, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners adopted a network adequacy model act for states. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports using this act as a foundation to develop quantitative standards for Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future further supports legislation that will hold consumers harmless when consumers end up with out-of-network bills despite making appropriate efforts to stay in network or because inadequate provider networks require them to go out of network to receive the services that they need.

4. Set and enforce standards that provide for equitable coverage of mental health and substance use treatment services by health plans.

The 2008 passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act) required that health plans cover behavioral health services as they would physical health services. The Parity Act is only meaningful if health plans are implementing it well, consumers and providers understand how it works, and there is appropriate oversight. GHF supports legislation that sets standards and oversight procedures to ensure that Georgia consumers receive the coverage for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to which they are entitled by law and for which they have paid.

5. Prevent nicotine use and addiction by young Georgians

Georgia has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country at just 37 cents per pack, which makes tobacco much more accessible to youth in Georgia than in many other states. Moreover, Georgia does not apply an excise tax on the nicotine-delivery devices (e.g. e-cigarettes, vaping pens) that are preferred by young people today. For price-sensitive young people, increasing the price of tobacco and nicotine products decreases use and addiction, and the burden of chronic disease in Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports legislation to increase Georgia’s tobacco tax by at least $1 and to add an equitable excise tax on all nicotine delivery devices.

6. Support partners in integrating health and equity in the policies across every sector to address social determinants of health that prevent equitable access to care and equitable health status.

Factors outside the health system such as adequate housing, education, and economic opportunity impact the health of individuals, families, and communities. Left unaddressed, these and other complicating factors can inhibit the effectiveness of approaches that are strictly within the health system. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that aim to advance health and health equity by addressing the social determinants of health.

To download GHF’s 2019 policy priorities, click here.


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Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: Get to know Project AWARE, Part I

Georgia consistently ranks poorly among states in children’s mental health services, this year ranking 51st in a report from the Commonwealth Fund.  However, state leadership has been adamant about improving Georgia’s system of care through the infusion of additional dollars for children’s mental health services in the state budget and through innovative programs like Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education (AWARE).

Georgia Project AWARE is a youth mental health initiative focused on improving the experiences of school-aged youth in Georgia, and is funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) to the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE).

The purpose of Georgia’s Project AWARE is “to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth; provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid; and connect children, youth, and families who may have behavioral health issues with appropriate services.”

The four main goals of Georgia Project AWARE are:

  1. Increase participation of families, youth, and communities and mental health providers in efforts to identify the mental health resources available to meet the needs of students and families;
  2. Increase awareness and identification of mental health and behavior concerns, and student and family access to mental health providers through the PBIS framework in Georgia Project AWARE (GPA) schools; 
  3. Increase the percentage of Georgia youth and families receiving needed mental health services through collaboration between school systems and community mental health providers; and
  4. Train educators, first responders, parents and youth group leaders to respond to mental health needs of youth by providing free training in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA).

Georgia’s Project AWARE grant supports the participation of three Georgia school systems: Griffin-Spalding County School System, Muscogee County School District, and Newton County Schools. The GaDOE has partnered with these school districts to provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid and to develop innovative ways to connect youth and families to community-based mental health services.

Through Project AWARE, elementary and middle school teachers conduct universal screenings of their students and the screening results are used in two ways. School-, grade-, and classroom-level data is used to guide decisions about what universal supports or programs may be needed to better support the social and emotional needs of students. For example, if the results of the screening show high rates of anxiety for an entire grade of students, school leaders and teachers may make changes to school practices that may contribute to student anxiety or implement a program to help reduce or address the anxiety students are feeling.

Individual level screening results are used to identify those students who could benefit from extra social and emotional supports. These students are then connected to the appropriate behavioral services through partnerships the schools have developed with community-based providers.

Georgia Project AWARE has already screened a total of 18,713 students in 29 schools. Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability and the Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management provide support for the program through analysis of the screening results and trainings for school leadership and staff.

In Getting to know Project AWARE: Part II, we’ll learn more about Youth Mental Health First Aid and how it helps educators meet the social and emotional needs of their students.

 

To learn more about Georgia Project AWARE:


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Every story matters: Lifting the voices of Georgia health care consumers

This week GHF’s Outreach and Education Manager, Alyssa Green, takes some time to share her experiences and reflections from traveling across Georgia to collect consumer stories.

 

As the Outreach and Education Manager, I am tasked with the responsibility of traveling around the state to collect consumer stories. My travel and conversations with consumers provides a wonderful opportunity to better understand the health care issues many Georgians face. This past year, I’ve been to many Georgia communities and one place that has had a particularly significant impact on me has been Clay county.

Located in the Southwest region of the state, Clay county has one practicing physician, Dr. Karen Kinsell. Dr. Kinsell is a volunteer physician who provides medical care to approximately 3,000 patients in a small office building in that once served as a Tastee Freeze stand. There is a liquor store next door where patients have been known to buy alcohol while waiting to be seen.

Rural areas of the state have struggled economically for years, and Fort Gaines, the county seat, is no exception. Since 2013, two nearby hospitals have closed, the county has seen an exodus of physicians and other providers, and this year, the county’s only pharmacy closed. As a result, Clay county residents have increasingly had to seek treatment outside of their community, forcing them to travel more than an hour in one direction for doctor’s appointments and prescriptions. Limited access to transportation, job security, and limited opportunity for quality education has made recruiting and retaining health care providers and facilities nearly impossible. 

These circumstances lead to community members forgoing care and relying on home remedies for serious health conditions. I’ve met a few of Dr. Kinsell’s patients and they all had distressing stories about their health and health care. They’ve told me stories about being turned away from hospitals after experiencing a stroke, self-medicating with alcohol for severe dental problems, and hoping a suspected blood clot isn’t “that serious.” If it were not for Dr. Kinsell’s compassion and generosity, many Clay county residents would likely have to go without any medical care at all.

Seeing the statistics that come out of rural Georgia is concerning, but meeting the people behind the numbers can be heartbreaking. Each of these stories matters individually, and here at GHF, we think there is great value in lifting up the voices and experiences of individual consumers. But collectively these stories are even more powerful. They speak to the great need that exists across Georgia for an equitable, accessible, affordable health care system that provides quality care to every Georgian regardless of geography, income, or demographic.


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Medicaid Matters: The impact of coverage for Georgians

Medicaid provides health care coverage to almost two million Georgians, including 1.3 million children across the state and 500,000 seniors and people with disabilities. It’s comprehensive coverage provides needed health care services that would otherwise be unaffordable to low-income Georgia families and individuals in communities across the state. Because Medicaid is so fundamental to Georgians and Georgia’s health care system, GHF is highlighting it in two new resources!

The Medicaid Matters to Georgia storybook shares the real health care stories of Georgia children and families. Georgians from across the state share the important role that Medicaid plays in their lives. Hear directly from Sherry, Travis, Oliver, and others about their experiences. Oppositely, Mary, Susie, and other uninsured Georgians share how Medicaid coverage could improve their lives if state policy makers closed Georgia’s coverage gap.

 

 

Our new Medicaid Matters for Georgia fact sheet is updated with what you need know about Medicaid. This one-page fact sheet outlines who is eligible for Medicaid in Georgia, what health services and supports are covered, and why Medicaid is a good investment for Georgia.

 

GHF’s new resources bring attention to the difference Medicaid makes in the lives of Georgians every day and the potential it has to serve those who are currently uninsured. We hope these new resources help policymakers, advocates, and consumers from across the state better understand the importance of ensuring all Georgians have access to quality, affordable healthcare. We invite you to read and share both with your friends, colleagues, and partners.

 


Georgians for a Healthy Future is partnering with community groups across the state to host Georgia Voices for Medicaid events. If you are interested in learning more about Georgia’s Medicaid program, who it covers, how it benefits the state, and how you can be a strong health care advocate, you should attend! Check out our events page to see if we have any Georgia Voices for Medicaid events happening near you or contact Alyssa Green at agreen@healthyfuturega.org if you would like to schedule one in your community.


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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner

The race to be Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is one of the most overlooked statewide races on the ballot this November, despite the position’s impact on the health and finances of almost all Georgians.

Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (commonly referred to as the Department of Insurance or DOI) is headed by Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner. The Department oversees health, auto, long-term care, and other insurance products that can be regulated by the state. For Georgians who have individual or small-group insurance (about 2.6 million Georgians), the Insurance Commissioner has a direct impact on their insurance rates, their ability to access needed health services, and the extent to which their coverage is transparent and fair.

Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is a constitutional officer in Georgia and is elected by Georgia voters for a four-year term. The Commissioner and the Department are tasked with regulating insurance companies and licensing insurance agents operating in Georgia and overseeing state fire safety initiatives, in addition to other non-health-related duties.

Because the Insurance Commissioner is primarily responsible for overseeing private health insurance in Georgia, they are key to how the Affordable Care Act and its consumer protections are implemented in the state. For example, the ACA requires that insurance companies justify any premium rate increases of more than 10% through a process called “rate review”. The Commissioner and Department staff determine how strong and transparent to make Georgia’s rate review process, and in doing so, determine how accountable insurers must be as they ask consumers for more dollars out of their household budgets.

The Commissioner and DOI are also responsible for ensuring that health plans do not design their benefits so that they discriminate against certain types of consumers. For example, if a health plan only covers one type of HIV medication and only at the highest cost-sharing level of the plan, the Commissioner could instruct his department to examine whether the plan’s design constitutes discrimination against people living with HIV. Similarly, health plans are required to cover mental health and substance use treatment services at the same level as they cover physical health services. If the Commissioner is lax in overseeing the enforcement of these laws, consumers could be financially blocked from receiving the health services that they need.

The Commissioner and his office also license insurance agents selling health insurance plans and other consumer products, as well as Georgia’s health insurance navigators. The position of “navigator” was created and funded through the Affordable Care Act in order to provide free, local, unbiased assistance for consumer enrolling into health coverage through the Marketplace. Currently, Georgia’s navigators have to meet unnecessarily burdensome licensing requirements and pay a large fee in order to be licensed by the state, something that Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner has the power to address.

The Department of Insurance is further charged with protecting Georgia citizens from insurance fraud, mediating disputes between consumers and insurance companies, and assisting consumers with questions. The Georgia Department of Insurance has historically been under-resourced and, as a result, has struggled to carry out these tasks in a robust way. Georgia’s next Commissioner will be integral in advocating for the budget and resources needed to assist and support Georgia consumers across all insurance products.

Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner will have a significant role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next four years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blogs in the series:

*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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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s General Assembly

Early voting is underway ahead of the upcoming November 6th Election Day. Georgians across the state are heading to the polls to cast their votes for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state legislators and other elected positions, and voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have a critical impact on consumers health issues in Georgia.

All of Georgia’s state legislative seats are on the ballot this fall and a record number of seats are being competitively contested. The resulting changes in the General Assembly could have a big impact on the future of health and health care for Georgia consumers.

Georgia’s General Assembly is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Georgia has one of the largest state legislatures in the nation with a total of 236 members, made up of 56 Senators and 180 Representatives. Every Georgia resident has one Georgia Senator and one Georgia House member, both of whom are up for re-election every two years.

Constitutionally, the General Assembly is only responsible for proposing and passing an annual state budget; however, during the body’s annual 40-day session, legislators also propose, debate, and pass laws for the state of Georgia, including those that regulate health care, health coverage, or that impact health through another sector (like education or transportation).  

All appropriations bills, which designate how state funds are to be spent, must originate in the House. Health care is the state’s second largest expenditure and made up almost 20% of this year’s annual budget. Each year, after the Governor proposes a state budget, the legislative leaders of the House turn the proposed budget into a bill for consideration by the House’s appropriations committee and then by the full chamber. When the House has approved the budget, the budget goes through the same process in the Senate. Once approved by both chambers, any differences are worked out in a conference committee, before sending the budget back to the Governor to be approved or vetoed.

The decisions made during the General Assembly’s budget considerations can have a big impact on health care and coverage for Georgians. For example, the General Assembly has over the last three years approved pay increases for primary care and OB-GYN doctors and dentists treating Medicaid patients, which improves access to care for the almost 2 million Georgians who rely on Medicaid for health coverage.

Members of the General Assembly may also propose laws to address issues of concern for their constituents. These issues can range from surprise out-of-network medical billing to the opioid crisis to Medicaid expansion to Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace. Many legislators receive ideas for legislation from concerns and complaints brought to them by their constituents (an important reason to get to know your legislators!).

Each year, hundreds of bills are proposed and only a fraction successfully pass both chambers. Health-related bills typically pass through the Health & Human Services and Insurance Committees in each chamber. Legislators can consider bills until Sine Die, the 40th and last day of the legislative session. When approved by both chambers, successful legislation goes to the Governor for approval or veto.

One of the most impactful pieces of health-related legislation passed by the state legislature in recent years is HB 990 (2014), which requires the General Assembly to approve any expansion of Medicaid. This bill effectively revoked the Governor’s ability to act independently to close Georgia’s coverage gap, making it more difficult to expand health coverage to low-income adults in Georgia. 

Georgia’s General Assembly will have many new faces after the upcoming election, each of whom will play a role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next two years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blogs in the series:

*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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Stories from Georgia’s coverage gap: Rural Georgians left behind

Pricilla Epps is a 54-year-old former security guard who lives in Blakely, GA, a rural community in the southwest region of the state.

Two days after having a sudden stroke, Priscilla lost her job because she was unable to work her scheduled shifts as she recovered that week. Priscilla’s health insurance was provided by her employer, so she lost her health insurance coverage when she lost her job, leaving her on the hook for all of the hospital costs that accumulated as she received care for her stroke. After a two-day stay, Priscilla was told she would have to leave the hospital due to her inability to pay for the costs of in-patient care.

Experiencing dizziness, difficult walking, discomfort in her limbs, and frequent forgetfulness, Priscilla went to see Dr. Kinsell, the only available physician in Clay County, where she still receives the limited follow-up care she can afford. She is still unable to go back to work or live on her own, so Priscilla has been living with her daughter for the time being.

Like Priscilla, 360,000 low-income Georgians, many of whom are uninsured, live in small towns and rural areas across the state. These areas have the most at stake in the debate over whether or not to close the health care coverage gap. According to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina’s Rural Health Project, Medicaid expansions in other states have cut the uninsured rate in rural areas by half, while Georgia has seen a much smaller decline from 43 percent to 38 percent among the same population.

For rural Georgia residents like Priscilla, health coverage would open doors to the physicians and services that they need to stay employed or get back to work. For rural communities like Blakely, more residents with health coverage could make the difference between keeping or losing the few remaining primary care physicians in the area.


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 why it’s important.

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 Welcomes Third Graduate Student Intern

Georgians for a Healthy Future regularly hosts graduate students that work with GHF staff in advancing organizational policy and advocacy priorities.

Mujaahida joins Georgians For a Healthy Future as the Behavioral Health Intern. In this position, Mujaahida will work closely with staff in creating behavioral health resources and conducting relevant outreach. She graduated from Wesleyan University in 2015 with a BA in Psychology and English Literature. After graduating from Wesleyan, she worked as a 9th grade English teacher in Capitol Heights, Maryland through Teach for America.  Her experience as a teacher inspired her to get back into the world of research to find ways to help adolescents develop skills that would help promote their physical and mental health.

She is currently a first-year Master of Public Health candidate at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory Universty with a concentration in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education. She is particularly interested in mental and behavioral health research and health education and communication. She is passionate about working with youth and adolescents in minority communities to promote understanding of mental health, reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, and promote positive health behaviors.


A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s Governor

Early voting began last week ahead of the upcoming November 6th Election Day. Georgians across the state are heading to the polls to cast their votes for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state legislators and other elected positions, and voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have a critical impact on consumers health issues in Georgia.

One of the most visible positions on the ballot and one that plays a meaningful role in health care policy for the state is Georgia’s Governor. The Governor heads the state’s executive branch, which is broadly responsible for implementing, supporting, and enforcing Georgia’s laws.

As head of the executive branch, the Governor has the authority to appoint and provide direction to the leaders of most of Georgia’s executive branch departments, including the Commissioners of the Departments of Community Health (the state’s Medicaid agency), Public Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Family and Children Services. Because most health-related programs in the state are run by one of these agencies, the ability to appoint department leadership provides the Governor with outsized influence on the direction, priorities, and initiatives within each.

Ahead of the state legislative session, the Governor has the added responsibility of proposing an annual state budget for the General Assembly’s consideration. Health care is regularly the state’s second largest expenditure, making up almost 20% of the annual budget. Aside from expected items like Medicaid expenditures, the Governor may propose special investments that promote his/her health-related priorities. For example, Georgia’s FY19 budget includes an additional $21.4 million to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services as recommended to Governor Deal by his Commission on Children’s Mental Health. Once the legislature has considered and passed a budget, the Governor has the power to veto or approve the spending plan.

At the end of each year’s legislative session, the Governor has 40 days to approve or veto (“veto” means “to reject”) legislation. Most laws passed by the General Assembly are approved but a few each year are rejected by the Governor because they are ill-informed, controversial, or contrary to the Governor’s priorities. In recent years, Governor Deal has vetoed some health-related laws like SB 357 in 2018, which would have established a Health Care Coordination and Innovation Council.

Once a bill is approved, the Governor may direct the executive branch agencies about how the law should be carried out. For example, if the Georgia General Assembly approves future legislation to expand Medicaid in Georgia, the Governor may provide the Commissioner of Community Health with instructions about how the expansion should be implemented, including program elements that make it easier or harder for people to enroll in or use their new coverage.

Georgia’s next Governor will have a significant role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next four years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blog, Eight questions for health care voters to ask Georgia candidates, where you can find a list of questions to help health care voters get to know the candidates on their ballots.

*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 In The News
Aug 8, 2019
Review: Georgia hospital prices among highest
Andy Miller

Laura Colbert, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said Monday that health care spending growth has been squeezing patients. “We hear from consumers that…

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