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Author: Laura Colbert

Strategic goal #2: GHF as a champion of community-led change

In July, GHF’s Board of Directors and staff launched our new 2022-2026 strategic plan–an ambitious blueprint for our next four years as an organization. Guided by this living document, GHF will deepen our focus on health equity; champion community-led change; build a healthy, resilient organization; and lead advocacy to strengthen Georgia’s public health systems and workforce.

In a series of four blogs, GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert spotlights each of our new strategic goals. If you missed her first blog on GHF’s health equity goals, you can catch up here.

Strategic Goal #2: GHF meaningfully and consistently engages with communities and individuals in ways that amplify their voices and experiences to achieve policy change. 

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Strategic Goal #1: GHF as a health equity champion

Last month, GHF’s Board of Directors and staff launched our new 2022-2026 strategic plan–an ambitious blue print for our next four years as an organization. Guided by this living document, GHF will deepen our focus on health equity; champion community-led change; build a healthy, resilient organization; and lead advocacy to strengthen Georgia’s public health systems and workforce.

In a series of four blogs, GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert spotlights each of our new strategic goals. First up: health equity!

Strategic Goal #1: GHF is recognized as a leading statewide organization working to advance health equity.

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Health Care Unscrambled 2022: Recapped!

Thank you to all attendees for being a part of Georgians for a Healthy Future’s 12th annual Health Care Unscrambled! We were thrilled to have so many advocates, policy makers, health care providers, and public health professionals join us for this year’s virtual event! 

Highlights from a bi-partisan legislative panel

While we were hoping to convene in a hybrid in-person & virtual fashion, the pivot to a fully virtual platform did not damper the impact of this year’s Health Care Unscrambled program. Our accomplished and bi-partisan panel of state legislators answered tough questions about the state of health in Georgia and discussed the issues they see as most pressing in 2022. 

Head shots of three legislators in a horizontal row. From left to right: Sen. Dean Burke, Rep. Lee Hawkins, and Sen. Sonya Halpern

Sen. Dean Burke hinted that an extension of Medicaid coverage to pregnant women for up to 12 months after birth or miscarriage was a top priority for him–a preview of the Governor’s similar announcement at the State of the State address later in the week. Sen. Sonya Halpern highlighted the imperative for Georgia leaders to address mental health and substance use in a holistic way across the lifespan, including our education and juvenile justice systems for youth well-being. She also highlighted the need to understand drivers of racial and geographic health disparities and address the root causes to meaningfully close those gaps. Rep. Lee Hawkins discussed health care workforce development initiatives like higher pay rates, expanded training opportunities in rural areas, and loan forgiveness programs. Other topics discussed included telemedicine; tobacco and vaping prevention and taxes; community health workers and other local solutions; Medicaid expansion; public health systems & infrastructure; and more.

A keynote address about Georgia’s public health system

Dr. Georges Benjamin, a Black man with white hair & a mustache who is smiling while wearing a black suit, grey shirt, and red tie.

The legislative panel set the stage for our keynote speaker, Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). We learned from Dr. Benjamin what makes up a resilient and effective public health system, how we can ensure that Georgia has one now and in the future, and how public health can help us address some of the state’s toughest health challenges. Dr. Benjamin also highlighted the 10 essential public health services, discussed how to protect public health from being politicized, and called out voting and civic engagement as a fundamental social determinant of health. Dr. Benjamin’s slides are available here for your reference.

Missed Health Care Unscrambled 2022?

Don’t stress! Materials from the event are available on our digital program.

Click here to view the recording of event. Here are some helpful time stamps: 

  • 3:00—Amy Bielawski shares her health care story
  • 10:50: Legislative panel
  • 1:14:42: Executive Director’s remarks
  • 1:29:01: Keynote address from Dr. Georges Benjamin

Visit GHF’s Facebook page to view photos from the virutal event! Check out the #HCU2022 discussion on Twitter.

Thank you again for attending! 


The ACA remains the law of the land!

Georgia consumers relieved of threat to health coverage by U.S. Supreme Court’s third affirmation that Affordable Care Act is lawful

With the ACA firmly in place as the law of the land, federal and state law makers should turn their attention to improving affordability and closing remaining coverage gaps

Statement by Whitney Griggs, Health Policy Analyst at Georgians for a Healthy Future regarding today’s ruling on the California v. Texas lawsuit by the Supreme Court of the United States. The lawsuit sought to invalidate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Georgia was a plaintiff in the case.

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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2020 elections: U.S. Senate

Three images of people advocating for health care at the Capitol

During the run-off election period (Dec. 14, 2020 to Jan. 5, 2021) for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, Georgians have the opportunity to learn more about these elected positions, their decision-making power, and how Georgia’s U.S. Senators impact our health and well-being . Voters’ decisions about our Senate candidates will have a tangible and long-running impact on our state’s recovery from COVID-19, health costs and insurance, and other important consumer health issues in Georgia.

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Statement from GHF’s Executive Director on approval of Georgia Access waiver

Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the approval of Georgia’s 1332 State Innovation waiver, title “Georgia Access”. Laura Colbert, Executive Director of Georgians for a Healthy Future has issued the following statement:

“Despite repeated attempts, Governor Kemp’s Georgia Access proposal still fails to explain how a shutdown of the most popular and streamlined health insurance enrollment platform in order to move to a decentralized, privatized enrollment system will address the challenges faced by Georgia consumers, especially those who remain uninsured.

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Statement from GHF’s Executive Director on the approval of Georgia’s 1115 Medicaid waiver & pending approval of 1332 private insurance waiver

Today Governor Kemp and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the approval of Georgia’s 1115 Medicaid waiver & pending approval of 1332 private insurance waiver. Laura Colbert, Executive Director of Georgians for a Healthy Future has issued the following statement:

“In the midst of a once-in-a-century health crisis, Georgians need & deserve bold action from their leaders. Unfortunately, the Governor’s health proposals miss that mark. The plans approved today are insufficient and ill-advised. Georgians deserve better.

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Five Years in the Making: Consumer Advocates’ Role in Passing Comprehensive Surprise Billing Legislation

Quote from consumer about surprise billing and summary of blog

Today, Governor Kemp signed the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act into law! Georgians for a Healthy Future and our partners at Georgia Watch strongly supported this bipartisan bill to protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical bills.

These exorbitant bills often burden patients with high amounts of medical debt. In fact, over half of debt collection actions contain medical debts, leading to bankruptcy for many consumers. Take George C. of Lilburn, for instance, who had his right foot amputated at an in-network hospital. Even after obtaining assurances from his insurer that the provider was in network, he still found himself stuck with costly medical bills. “I found out they used out-of-network providers when they assured me they would [not]. They would not dismiss the bills and I had no alternative but to file for bankruptcy,” said George, after receiving surprise medical bills totaling $60,000.

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2018 legislative updates: Crossover edition

A flurry of activity for Crossover Day

Last Wednesday was Crossover Day at the Capitol, meaning a bill must cross from its chamber of origin to the opposite chamber to remain viable for this legislative session. This week’s legislative update provides a rundown of consumer health legislation: which bills made it through and which did not. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here, along with more information about the bills included here

 

 

Our priorities

Surprise billing & transparency legislation keeps moving

 SB 359, the most comprehensive surprise billing legislation to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly this session, received approval by the full Senate on Wednesday and will be considered by the House Insurance Committee in the coming weeks. As previously reported, HB 678, a bill that increases provider network and billing transparency, passed the House several weeks ago. It has since been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. HB 799, which addressed out of network care in emergency situations, did not receive a vote by the House but much of the bill’s language is included in SB 359.

Legislation to close Georgia’s coverage gap did not receive legislative attention

HB 669, sponsored by House MInority Leader Bob Trammell, did not receive a committee hearing or a vote by the Crossover Day deadline. The legislation would expand Georgia’s Medicaid program to cover adults making less than $16,000 annually and parents making less than $21,000 for a family of three, as 32 other states have now done. The bill was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee and remains the most significant step the state could take towards addressing the opioid crisis, strengthening rural hospitals, and increasing access to care for thousands of hard-working Georgians.



Crossover Day Recap

 

HB 683: Amended FY2018 Budget | CROSSED OVER

HB 683 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2018. The “little budget”, as it is known, has passed both chambers of the General Assembly but has not yet received “agrees” by both chambers, the final step before sending the budget to the Governor for his signature.


HB 684: FY 2019 Budget | REMAINS IN HOUSE

HB 684 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The budget includes several new investments in children’s mental health and mostly maintains funding for other health care programs and priorities. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY2019 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. 


HB 769: Recommendations from the House Rural Development Council | CROSSED OVER

HB 769 is the result of the 2017 House Rural Development Council’s work. The bill includes a number of provisions, most prominently of which is the creation of a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The bill also increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100%, directs the Department of Community Health to streamline and create efficiencies within the state medical plan, allows for the establishment of micro-hospitals, sets up an incentive program for physicians practicing in rural areas, and redefines “rural county”.


HB 827: Rural hospitals tax credit increase | CROSSED OVER

HB 827, introduced by Rep. Trey Kelley, would expand the rural hospital tax credit program from a 90% credit to a 100% credit. The tax credit program went into effect last year and has resulted in the donation of about $10 million to rural hospitals thus far.


HB 872: Provider network transparency | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 872, sponsored by Rep. Knight, requires insurers to make a plain language description of their provider network standards publicly available on their website among other provisions. The bill also stipulates that if an insurer advertises a physician as being in a plan’s provider network when a consumer enrolls in an insurance plan, the insurer is required to cover the health care services received from that provider at an in-network rate during the entire contract year.


HB 873: Prescription drug formulary and prior authorization transparency | DID NOT CROSS OVER

This bill requires that insurers provide an easy-to-find, accurate, and updated drug formulary list on their website and requires the Insurance Commissioner to create rules about the format and information within the formulary so that consumers can more easily understand what prescriptions are covered under their insurance plan and the costs associated. The legislation also requires that a single, standard prior authorization form be developed that would apply to all insurers and pharmacy benefit managers regulated in Georgia.


HB 877: “Modified risk” tobacco | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 877 would have cut Georgia’s tobacco tax in half for so-called “modified risk” tobacco products. The bill lost decisively on the House floor by a vote of 109-59. Thank you to those of you who contacted your state representatives last week ahead of the House’s vote!


SB 325: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act | CROSSED OVER

SB 325 would allow Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also grants states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers.


SB 351: Changes for APRNs | CROSSED OVER

SB 351 would expand from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation is significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice.


SB 352: Legislation to establish Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery | CROSSED OVER

SB 352 establishes a Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery, headed by a director, which would be charged with coordinating data among relevant government entities; informing strategies to combat the opioid crisis within the Departments of Public Health and Education, the Attorney General’s Office, and other state entities; consulting with the Governor’s office on a potential Medicaid waiver related to opioid abuse; and developing and informing other efforts to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services across the state.


SB 357: Legislation to establish Health Coordination and Innovation Council  | CROSSED OVER

SB 357 establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council, the Health System Innovation Center, and an advisory board to the Council. The Council would act as a permanent statewide coordinating platform, bringing together all of health care’s major stakeholders, and the Center is proposed as a research body that would collect and analyze data to support the work of the Council.


SB 418: FDA and USDA Preemption bill | DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 418, sponsored by Rep. John Wilkinson, would preempt local governments from regulating any product currently under the jurisdiction of the FDA, USDA, or the Georgia Department of Agriculture, including tobacco and marijuana. The bill failed in the Senate by a 34-19 vote, but is expected to come back in an amended form.


Legislative update: Crossover Day is here!

Last week saw a flurry of activity under the Gold Dome as legislators worked to move bills forward before a key deadline this week. Crossover Day, the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, is the day by which a bill must be passed from its originating chamber to the opposite chamber to remain viable. The deadline prompted legislative committees to take action on many bills last week so that they could be considered on the House and Senate floors ahead of this week’s cut-off. Two bills in particular caught our attention and warrant yours as well.


Bill would cut tobacco tax on “modified risk” tobacco products

Last week, the House Ways & Means committee approved HB 877, which would cut in half the tobacco tax on so-called “modified risk” tobacco products. Tobacco companies have been developing new products that they claim reduce the risk and harm of smoking and are working to gain the FDA’s approval later this year. Health advocates know that HB 877 is a bad bill because: 1) there is no data to quantify the claim of reduced risk; 2) the labeling of a product as “modified risk” may contribute to a false sense of safety and actually encourage tobacco use, particularly among minors: and 3) Georgia already has the second lowest tobacco tax in the country. HB 877 is now in the House Rules committee awaiting a vote by the full House.

Call your state representative! 

Contact your state representative and ask them to vote “No” on HB 877! Tell them that Georgia should not lower the tax on any tobacco products and, instead, should consider implementing a new tax on e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices that are currently untaxed.


Comprehensive surprise billing legislation approved by Senate committee

SB 359, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, was approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee last week. This legislation addresses surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 5th legislative update.) The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor for a vote on Crossover Day, Wednesday, February 28th.

Contact your state senator! 

Contact your state senator and ask them to vote “Yes” on SB 359! Tell them that too many Georgia consumers are receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills and that this legislation provides them with important, necessary protections.

 


What Happened Last Week
Expansion of rural hospital tax credit approved by House

HB 827 expands Georgia’s existing tax credit for donations to rural hospitals from 90% to 100%, making the program a dollar-for dollar match. Last year, this program brought about $10 million to rural hospitals across the state. While an expansion of this tax credit may provide some limited relief to rural hospitals, they would see much greater gains if Georgia’s legislature closed the state’s coverage gap by insuring all low-income Georgians, a point made on the House floor during the debate of this bill. The House passed HB 827 and it has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

 


No hearing yet for legislation that would close Georgia’s coverage gap

With the legislative session more than halfway over, HB 669, which would expand Georgia’s Medicaid program to cover adults making less than $16,000 annually and parents making less than $21,000 for a family of three, has yet to earn a hearing. The bill sits in the House Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been brought up for consideration. HB 669 is the most significant step our state legislature could take towards addressing the opioid crisis, strengthening rural hospitals, and increasing access to care for thousands of hard-working Georgians. Ask your state legislator to request a hearing for this critical piece of legislation.


Bills impacting health care providers pass Senate HHS committee

The Senate HHS committee approved two bills this week that impact health care providers in Georgia. SB 325 aims to improve access to care by entering Georgia into the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also grants states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers. SB 351 would expand from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation is significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice. Both SB 325 and SB 351 await approval by the Senate Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full chamber.


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