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Legislative Update: Mental health bill introduced, new legislation, General Assembly calendar and more!

Legislative update: Week 3

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
  • Georgia House Speaker introduces Mental Health Parity Act
  • Legislation on increasing postpartum coverage, drug prices, COVID-19 vaccines, and more!
  • The General Assembly sets their 2022 calendar
  • Advocacy events for your calendar
  • GHF’s got you covered this session!
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Legislative Update: $$$, this week’s advocacy opportunities, & what’s next

Legislative Update: Week 2

General Assembly meets for joint budget hearings 
Picture of the Georgia capitol

The Georgia General Assembly met last week for joint budget hearings. During “budget week” both the House and Senate heard from Governor Kemp and agency leaders about their requests for the current and upcoming state budgets. The General Assembly’s budgetary considerations consist of two parts:

  1. Changes to the current FY 2022 state budget (sometimes called the “little budget”) which will run through June 30, 2022, and
  2. The FY 2023 general state budget (the “big budget”), which will begin on July 1, 2022.

After the agency presentations, the House will pull together the budget requests into legislation and continue to review funding requests.

Below we highlight some of the primary asks made by the state agencies that most impact our health, especially during the current health crisis. For more detailed budget analysis, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Overview of Georgia’s 2023 Fiscal Year Budget.

The General Assembly will reconvene on January 25th for the fifth day of legislative session.

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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! 


Legislative Update: Early budget preview and opportunities for advocacy

Legislative Update: Week 1

The 2022 legislative session has begun
Picture of the Georgia capitol

The Georgia General Assembly convened (for less than 1 hour) last Monday, Jan. 10th to officially kick off the 40-day legislative session. 

GHF held Health Care Unscrambled on Tuesday as Georgians celebrated UGA’s national football championship win. Thank you to those who attended Health Care Unscrambled! We will be in touch with a recap and a recording of the event very soon! 

The General Assembly reconvened Wednesday through Friday, completing the first four days of the session. The primary focus of the first week of the 2022 legislative session was Governor Kemp’s State of the State address. 

This week will be dedicated primarily to budget hearings for the current (FY 2022 Amended) and next year’s (FY 2023 General) state budgets. The General Assembly will reconvene Monday, January 24th for the fifth official day of legislative session. 

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Collecting Community Stories of Medical Debt in Southwest Georgia

In the spring of this year, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Watch, and SOWEGA Rising launched a project in Southwest Georgia to address the burden of medical debt. Southwest Georgia, including the Albany area, experiences medical debt at a higher rate than the rest of Georgia and the country. In Dougherty County, 22% of residents have a medical debt in collections, compared to 19% for Georgia and 15% nationally. This debt also disproportionately impacts communities of color. In Dougherty County, 25% of Black residents have a medical debt in collections, compared to 21% in Georgia and 17% nationally (Urban Institute, 2020).  

Medical debt can have a profound impact on the quality of a person’s life. Studies have found that medical debt is associated with a decreased use of health services, especially among low-income individuals who often become sicker while delaying care, which increases the cost of their care (Crawford, 2021). These impacts can trickle down to affect the health of the entire community.

To better understand both the individual and community impacts of medical debt, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Watch, and SOWEGA Rising have used several outreach methods to invite residents of southwest Georgia to share their stories and feedback on experiences with medical debt. Since May of 2021, SOWEGA Rising has organized in-person listening sessions and Facebook Live virtual events to help individuals share their experiences with accessing and affording care in the community, including sharing whether they currently have unpaid medical bills, bills in collections, and how those bills are impacting their lives. So far, we’ve conducted seven listening sessions, and the experiences shared with us show that southwest Georgia residents are struggling to afford their care. Over 60% of those we spoke to reported delaying or avoiding care due to cost concerns, and over 70% reported an outstanding medical bill that had been sent to collections.

In October, we launched the Dish the Debt campaign in a focused effort to encourage community members, especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by medical debt, to share their encounters with medical bills, medical debt, and unfair debt collection practices. The campaign included social media posts throughout the month that talked about the issue of medical debt and explained why it’s so crucial for those affected by medical debt in southwest Georgia to share their story. Each post linked to a story collection form on Georgia Watch’s website where individuals could share their stories and contact information for follow-up.

A more recent effort to engage the southwest Georgia community to share their experiences with medical debt came during Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Southwest Georgia Health Care Affordability forum. During the forum, speakers from Albany Area Primary Care, Samaritan Clinic, and Valley Healthcare (local clinics that provide free or low-cost care to the community) shared how high medical costs negatively impact southwest Georgia. GHF also shared data on the disproportionate share of medical debt among communities of color in southwest Georgia during the forum. Each organization that spoke during the forum is also sharing links to the medical debt story collection form to elicit more stories from the southwest Georgia community.

Our organizations will continue to create opportunities for community feedback and stories regarding medical debt in southwest Georgia. We will ramp up our community feedback and story collection efforts in 2022, starting with a dual listening session and Affordable Care Act enrollment event in Cuthbert. We invite anyone interested to join us on January 13th, from 5 – 8 pm. Location in Cuthbert TBD.

 We know that personal stories are critical to making lasting legislative and policy changes. While data on medical debt and the disproportionate impact on communities of color is deeply concerning, sharing stories creates a connection between those impacted by medical debt and Georgia’s decision-makers in a way that data cannot. We hope to use these stories, alongside data, to encourage hospital systems and lawmakers to enact policies that will protect Georgia communities from the crushing impacts of high health care costs and medical debt.

References

Crawford, K (2021). Stanford News: Stanford study finds medical debt is a double whammy for the poor. https://news.stanford.edu/2021/10/07/study-finds-medical-debt-double-whammy-poor/

Urban Institute (2020). Debt in America: An Interactive Map.https://apps.urban.org/features/debt-interactive-map/?type=overall&variable=pct_debt_collections


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GHF statement on the House passage of the Build Back Better Act

“Georgians for a Healthy Future praises our champions in the U.S. House of Representatives for their passage of the Build Back Better Act. This move brings uninsured Georgians one-step closer to a 4-year coverage gap fix. We encourage the Senate to urgently take up and approve this legislation so Georgians who have been left behind for almost a decade can easily & affordably access health care—like people just like them in 38 other states.”


GHF welcomes three new team members!

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A New Survey on Health Care Affordability Finds Georgians are “Coming Up Short”

The high cost of medical care has long been a concern for consumers and a frequent topic of conversation among policymakers and industry leaders. Therefore, it’s no surprise to learn that many Georgians struggle to pay for health care or worry about their ability to pay for care in the future. A new survey conducted by Altarum Healthcare Value Hub, in consultation with Georgians for a Healthy Future, gives surprising new data on exactly how much Georgians struggle with the cost of healthcare.

            The purpose of Altarum’s Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey (CHESS) is to provide advocates, policymakers, and industry leaders with a better understanding of consumers’ struggles with health care costs, reveal the cost-drivers that need to be addressed in Georgia and provide support for system changes and policy solutions to improve health care affordability for consumers.         

            The Georgia CHESS revealed the majority of Georgians struggle with health care affordability burdens. Many Georgians are uninsured, delay needed care, or struggle to pay their medical bills due to high costs. Even more Georgians are worried about affording care in the future, especially care related to aging or medical emergencies. These results indicate the need for policymakers and stakeholders to address high costs across all areas of health care  – from coverage to care to prescription drugs Additionally, consumers need more protection from high health care costs and robust, easy-to-understand tools to navigate the costs associated with care.

            The survey data also unveil the need and support for Georgia lawmakers to act to relieve cost concerns for Georgians. Lawmakers can apply the CHESS results to their efforts in the 2022 legislative session, using the information to pass laws that eliminate cost as a barrier to care for Georgians, protect Georgians from rising health care costs, and require system-level changes so consumers can better tell what the true cost of their care will be.

            If you would like to learn more about the Georgia results and the affordability burdens faced by Georgians, we invite you to join us on October 14th for “Coming Up Short: Affordability, Access, and Policy Fixes for Georgians,” where you’ll hear from experts about Georgia’s results and ways to address health care spending.


GHF welcomes new Strategic Communications Manager

This month, GHF welcomed Alex McDoniel as our new Strategic Communications Manager. Alex will lead GHF’s communications, marketing and public relations efforts. 

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GHF participates in visit from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra

By: Knetta Adkins

A group of adults standing together wearing masks in front of a sign at Southside Medical Center. They are a mix of Black, White, Latino, and other races.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra at Southside Medical Center, Atlanta, GA.

On August 2nd, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Xavier Becerra, the 25th Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. During his August trip to Georgia, Secretary Becerra hosted a roundtable with community leaders to hear about the health care concerns and challenges most affecting Georgians. Congresswomen Carolyn Bordeaux, Lucy McBath, and Nikema Williams, state Representative Matthew Wilson, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms participated in the roundtable, as well as representatives from Community Catalyst, Protect Our Care Georgia, and others. It was an exciting moment to represent Georgians for a Healthy Future and share on behalf of the marginalized Georgians for whom we advocate. 

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