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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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Community Benefit and Economic Stability (CBES) Project

Since 2021, Georgia WatchGeorgians for a Healthy Future (GHF), and SOWEGA Rising have worked to protect consumers in Southwest Georgia from unaffordable medical bills and debt through the Community Benefit and Economic Stability – Georgia (CBES-GA) project with support from leading health advocacy organization, Community Catalyst. Southwest Georgia experiences medical debt at a higher rate than the rest of Georgia and the country, particularly in communities of color. Southwest Georgia also has some of the highest insurance premiums in the country due primarily to the lack of competition among providers and insurers. This level of consolidation leaves consumers with little choice about where to seek care and incentivizes predatory medical billing practices. In Dougherty County, 25% of black residents have a medical bill in collections, compared to 21% in Georgia and 17% nationally (Urban Institute, 2020), creating significant barriers to care and trapping already cash-strapped Georgians into a cycle of poverty.  

“The medical debt burden disproportionately impacts black and brown people due to unfair and discriminatory barriers to health coverage and economic security, noted Sherrell Byrd, Executive Director of SOWEGA Rising. “Particularly in rural Georgia, you will see the highest rates of medical bills which drives up insurance costs, creating barriers to people who have to choose between paying bills and seeking necessary medical care.” 

Leveraging the policy expertise of Georgia Watch and GHF, as well as the local knowledge and community trust of SOWEGA Rising, the CBES-GA team has aimed to protect consumers in Southwest Georgia from unaffordable medical bills and debts so that all Georgians can afford the care they need. As this phase of the project winds down in the summer of 2022, we are reflecting upon all we have accomplished and how we will continue the work.

Dish the Debt Campaign

Changes in legislation ultimately leading to more affordable healthcare and less medical debt are greatly influenced by consumers’ personal stories. To better understand the individual and community impacts of medical debt, the CBES-GA team launched the Dish the Debt campaign to encourage community members, especially people of color disproportionately impacted by medical debt, to share their stories. Throughout the campaign, the team collected consumers’ stories and experiencesto translate into policy recommendations for hospitals and state leaders that alleviate the impacts of medical debt. The CBES-GA team also hosted a Facebook Live virtual forum with a panel discussion about the issue of medical debt, ways hospitals can help people avoid unaffordable medical bills, information about hospital community benefit and financial assistance, and a call to action to share medical billing stories. 

In March 2022, the CBES-GA team visited the town of Cuthbert, GA, for an in-person Dish the Debt listening session. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2020, the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert closed after over 70 years of service, leaving Cuthbert residents without access to essential healthcare. The team met with community members and key leaders to discuss the impacts the hospital closing has had on healthcare access in the area. Prior to the hospital’s closing, residents enjoyed the convenient care and myriad of services available to them locally. However, Cuthbert’s entire medical infrastructure dissipated when the hospital closed. The closest emergency room is Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, GA, forcing Cuthbert’s residents to travel roughly an hour for both emergency treatment and non-emergent care. Understanding the personal stories of those impacted by the hospital closing and subsequent community health impacts has been instrumental in shaping our recommendations for hospital systems and lawmakers. 

Engaging in the Community Health Needs Assessment

As mentioned, a quarter of people of color have a medical bill in collections in Dougherty County, home to the city of Albany and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. As a nonprofit hospital, Phoebe Putney is required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA) every three years. Through the CHNA process, information is collected from stakeholders, community leaders, and secondary sources about the status of the community. Community health needs are then prioritized based on the needs assessment findings, and hospital programs are implemented to target the prioritized community health needs. Community members the hospital serves must have a seat at the table during the CHNA process to ensure critical health needs are accurately identified. 

The CBES-GA team engaged with Phoebe Putney’s CHNA Internal Work Team to encourage the hospital to prioritize strategies and programs that reduce medical debt. SOWEGA Rising Executive Director Sherrell Byrd was interviewed during the CHNA process about pressing needs in the community. During the interview, Byrd discussed racial inequities with high medical debt, social determinants of health in communities, lack of maternal and mental healthcare in the region, and the lack of transparency around the costs for medical services. Having SOWEGA Rising at the table to uplift community voices in the CHNA was a powerful step in addressing disparities throughout Phoebe Putney’s five-county service area. 

Medical Debt Panel with the CFPB

In March 2022, the CBES-GA team was invited to participate in a virtual panel discussion about the complex challenges surrounding medical debt in Georgia, hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). CFPB Director Rohit Chopra was joined by United States Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Georgia advocates, including Liz Coyle of Georgia Watch, Laura Colbert of Georgians for a Healthy Future, and Sherrell Byrd of SOWEGA Rising. The group discussed crucial topics such as racial justice in healthcare access, the harms of medical debt, and the importance of examining policy solutions through an equity lens, bringing national recognition to the issue of medical debt in Georgia. The conversation also resulted in robust reforms to credit reporting practices, including paid medical debts that were in collections no longer being included on consumer credit reports.

You can view the panel discussion HERE with the password ‘CFPB220303GA’.

Future Opportunity

While this phase of the CBES project is wrapping up, more work is needed to ensure all Georgians have access to quality, affordable healthcare. In collaboration with Southwest Georgia community groups and healthcare providers, CBES-GA is continuing our efforts to increase patient confidence that healthcare is available at an affordable cost, ensure billing and collection practices are fair and transparent, and align hospital community benefit spending with community health needs. 

As a part of this mission, the CBES-GA team developed a Civic Advocacy and Engagement training curriculum to empower community members to become stronger advocates for the health of their communities. This curriculum equips individuals with the knowledge necessary to engage in the CHNA process and with local and state policymakers in Georgia about the crushing impacts of high healthcare costs and medical debt. To emphasize the significance of CHNAs in shaping community health, the curriculum includes the module What is a community health needs assessment (CHNA)? And why is it important? The module guides participants through the phases of the CHNA process and how they can get involved in their own hospital’s CHNA to impact the health of their communities. The curriculum implements a “train-the-trainer” model so that the project’s reach can grow organically, teaching more advocates about uplifting the voices of their communities. 

CBES-GA also hosts Policy Workshops to provide a platform for community members to apply what they learned in the Civic Advocacy training. These workshops help community members turn policy ideas into action by guiding them through the process of crafting a policy pitch with the help of subject area experts. At the end of each workshop, participants present their issue to policy experts who provide constructive feedback, further equipping them with the skills needed to engage in the CHNA process and with policymakers throughout the state.

We are incredibly proud of what we have accomplished together to protect Georgians from unaffordable medical bills and debt through the CBES-GA project. Georgia Watch, Georgians for a Healthy Future, and SOWEGA Rising are committed to continuing to address the disparate impacts of medical debt on communities of color through ongoing community relationships, advocacy training, and capacity building in Southwest Georgia. 

If you are interested in participating in or hosting a Civic Advocacy training or Policy Workshop, please contact Natasha Taylor (ntaylor@georgiawatch.org) or Sarah Phillips (sphillips@georgiawatch.org) for more information.


The Importance of Health Care for the LGBTQIA+ Community

Treylin Cooley, GHF Health Insurance Navigator 


During this PRIDE month, GHF is highlighting the importance of ALL people receiving proper health care and specifically highlighting the importance of the LGBTQIA+ community receiving adequate and unbiased care. Equitable access to health care for all is a right, not a privilege, and this right must be protected and enforced. Marketplace insurance was created to address those specific needs of Americans.

Historically, the LGBTQIA+ community has faced many barriers with access to health care being one of them. Why has this been a challenge, you may ask. To begin, many health care providers and lawmakers are unaware of the unique medical needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. This has been one of the biggest reasons that proper health care has not been taken more seriously and then causes someone to shy away from seeking care.  However, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I was fortunate enough to locate a provider who has done the work, created safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community, and offered individualized care. That was a breath of fresh air for me and I was once again excited about my health care. I was able to speak with providers who understood the social determinants of  health, and I was able to talk to my provider about my specific needs in a comfortable space.

Our community has unique health care needs; from needing specialized care for individuals living the trans experience to those needing to be prescribed the correct antiretroviral medications in order to continue to thrive with HIV. In addition, the myths and stereotypes that have been associated with the community have been major factors in molding the thoughts and opinions of both health care providers and lawmakers. This limited the innovative approaches that health care providers and lawmakers could implement to address those unique health care needs. However, marketplace insurance has been paramount in changing how many services are rendered. It has prevented individuals from being denied health insurance for having pre-existing conditions, prevented policies from getting canceled based on an individual’s age and limited the maximum amount of out-of-pocket costs an individual can be charged, as well as other protections. Marketplace insurance made me hopeful again that I could receive adequate and affordable health care.

As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I take my health care very seriously. As a result, during the time I was uninsured, I chose to enroll in Marketplace insurance. This was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I was, indeed, skeptical at first. However, the navigator who assisted me was very knowledgeable, patient, and walked me through the entire process.  Even when I was enrolling, one of my biggest fears was being able to afford the insurance. My health insurance navigator quickly helped calm those fears. I qualified for the premium tax credits, and I was able to get an affordable monthly premium. In addition, I was able to enroll in a program that assisted with the cost of the premium payment as well.

During this PRIDE month, let us be intentional about championing for equitable health care. Everyone deserves to thrive.  I take PRIDE in my health, and Marketplace insurance is the reason. Sign up today so that you, too, can Protect Your Peach.


Income Influences Health: It’s Time for a State Earned Income Tax Credit in Georgia

On March 9, 2022, Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) joined the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute for the Georgia Work Credit virtual rally*. The event helped Georgians learn more about the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and why Georgia needs one. GHF enthusiastically participated because a state EITC can provide real health benefits for Georgia families!

The EITC is a public health intervention that boosts incomes and health outcomes for working people earning low wages. Income has a big influence on health, especially for people with low incomes. People with low or moderate incomes have less access to health services than people with higher incomes. They also struggle to afford other resources that improve health, like stable housing or healthy foods.

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Legislative Update: Sine Die


Legislative update: Sine Die

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

Sine Die

The 2022 Georgia legislative session is over, but we are not finished! 

Monday was Sine Die at the Georgia General Assembly – the last day of the 2022 legislative session. This year’s session saw the passage of several bills that will impact Georgians’ access to health care and the overall health of the state. These bills included the Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act; easing of prior authorization requirements for people with chronic medications; increasing postpartum Medicaid coverage; the addition of mental health and substance use emergencies to Georgia’s surprise billing protections; and much more.

These bills now move to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and signature. The Governor has 40 days to sign or veto bills. We will continue to monitor these bills through the mid-May deadline. For the bills that become law, state agencies like the Department of Insurance will then figure out how to put them into practice.

Check out our summary of the more notable health bills of the 2022 session below and a full list of health care-related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

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Legislative Update: Action alerts, legislation on the move, advocacy events coming up, and more!



Legislative update: Week 12 – Part 2

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • Action Alerts! 
  • On the Governor’s desk!
  • On the move!
  • Other notable developments
  • Advocacy Days this week
  • GHF’s got you covered this session

ACTION ALERT:

CALL SENATE RULES COMMITTEE MEMBERS ABOUT THESE BILLS!

Ask the Senate Rules Committee to send the Quality Basic Education Act to the Senate for a vote!

The Quality Basic Education Act, HB 1283, will be heard in the Senate Rules Committee. This bill would provide recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade on all school days (except on days when they have other physical education class or other structured physical activities). Children have been proven to perform best academically, behaviorally, and socially when schools adopt physical activity policies such as recess.

Call or email members of the Senate Rules Committee and urge them to vote YES. 

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Legislative Update: Action alert: Call your Senators about HB 1013, final countdown, legislation on the move, advocacy events coming up, and more!


Legislative update: Week 12

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!



In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • Action Alert: TODAY: Ask the Senate HHS committee to pass the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • Final Countdown! 
  • On the Governor’s desk!
  • Waiting in Rules Committee…
  • Coming up this week
  • Senate passes FY23 budget
  • Advocacy Days this week
  • GHF’s got you covered this session

THE SENATE HHS COMMITTEE NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE GEORGIA MENTAL HEALTH PARITY ACT!

TODAY: Ask the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to vote YES on the Mental Health Parity Act! 

The Senate Health & Human Services Committee held several hearings on the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act last week. Unfortunately, the hearings were muddied by misinformation about what is in the bill and how it would impact Georgians.

The truth is the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act (GMHPA) would make mental health & substance use (MH/SU) services easier to access and afford in our state. It would put recovery in reach for many more Georgians. Here’s a fact sheet that explains the major parts of the bill.

The GMHPA is expected to receive a vote this afternoon or early this week. You can help ensure it passes with strong support by calling or emailing the committee members and asking them to unanimously pass the bill!

Then ask your state Senator to support the bill!

Now is the time! Please call or email legislators to say why you support this bill and to ask for their strong support too.

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Legislative Update: Action alert: Call your Senators about HB 1355, Crossover Day recap, advocacy events coming up, and more!

Legislative update: Week 10

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • Action Alert: Call your State Senator to pass HB 1355! 
  • Crossover Day Bill Recap
  • Advocacy Days coming up!
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

ACTION ALERT: CALL YOUR STATE SENATOR TO PROTECT CHILDREN

Ask the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to vote YES on the Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act!

The Childhood Led Exposure Control Act, HB 1355, will be heard again in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee this Wednesday at 1pm. HB 1355 would help protect children’s health. This bill would:

  • Update Georgia law to align blood level recommendations with CDC guidelines for children
  • Aid the early identification of children with elevated blood lead levels so that remediation can occur to reduce harm and prevent future exposure 
  • Protect children under 6 from lead exposure found in the interior and exteriors of rental housing, schools, and daycare centers
  • Provide for scientifically based standards for the removal of lead hazards

Call or email Senate committee members on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and urge them to vote YES. 

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Legislative Update: House finishes its budget work, plus rural health, primary care, & surprise billing legislation

Legislative update: Week 9

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • House passes the Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • A check-in on the state budget and Crossover Day is Tuesday!
  • Bills you may not have seen yet
  • Legislation on the move!
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!

MENTAL HEALTH PARITY ACT PASSED THE HOUSE!

The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act passed the House last week! 

The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act (GMHPA) passed the House last Tuesday with an overwhelming & bi-partisan 169-3 vote. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and will receive its first Senate hearing today, March 14th, at 3pm. 

The GMHPA is a big bill so the Senate HHS committee will likely hold several hearings before voting on it. While our Senators hear and debate the bill, you can help. Call or email committee members and ask them to keep “parity” in the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act.

Parity means fair or equal. It’s time for health insurance companies to play fair. The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act would put in place strong, fair rules so Georgians get the mental health & addiction coverage we need (and pay for).

Want to do more?

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Legislative Update: Mental Health Parity Act moves forward, Cover Georgia advocacy day, & lots more!

Legislative update: Week 8

The GHF team loves bringing you these weekly legislative updates, and you have told us that you enjoy reading them! Our team works hard to deliver this service to you in a complete and accurate way every week of Georgia’s legislative session. If you rely on these updates to keep you connected to the health happenings under the Gold Dome, please consider supporting our work with a donation today. Thank you very much!

In this week’s update:

Image of the Georgia capitol
  • Action Alert: Ask your state representative to support the Mental Health Parity Act! 
  • A check-in on the state budget and Crossover Day coming soon!
  • Bills you may not have seen yet
  • Legislation on the move!
  • Advocacy events for your calendar: AIDSWatch in Georgia, the Georgia work credit & Medicaid expansion!
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!
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GHF In The News

Sep 12, 2022
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