GEAR Policy Corner
Enrollment Policy Corner
When consumers enroll in a health insurance plan, they gain access to a network of medical providers. This network must be adequate to ensure that consumers enrolled in the plan have reasonable access to all covered benefits. While network adequacy is not a new concept, it has a new urgency in light of the sheer number of newly insured Georgians enrolled in individual plans; the move on the part of insurance companies toward narrow networks and tiered networks, which limit the number of providers plan enrollees can access; new federal standards; and a new model act from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) that provides updated guidance for states. Georgia health care consumers need and deserve clear standards and protections that ensure their coverage translates to access to care without financial hardship. Georgians for a Healthy Future released today at a public policy form held in Atlanta a new policy brief on network adequacy. This policy brief:
– explains the importance of network adequacy for access to care
– outlines current network adequacy standards in Georgia
– summarizes recent policy activity around network adequacy
– sets forth consumer-oriented principles for network adequacy standards in Georgia
– provides policy recommendations to achieve network adequacy in Georgia.
In December, the ACA Implementation Research Network released its Georgia state report at a policy forum held at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The report provides a detailed look at the key decisions made by Georgia policymakers around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act over the past five years. Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin participated in a discussion with advocates, policymakers, and stakeholders to reflect on the report’s findings. The conversation ranged from health insurance enrollment best practices to health system reform to what it will take to close the coverage gap in Georgia. The ACA Implementation Research Network is jointly operated by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the Brookings Institution, and the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. The Georgia state report was written by Michael Rich, Professor of Political Science and Environmental Sciences at Emory University. Download the Report.
Several health-related study committees met during the summer and fall months, and most of them are wrapping up their work. The Consumer and Provider Protection Act Study Committee held its final open meeting in November with a focus on network adequacy and provider directories. Claire McAndrew from Families USA, a national consumer health advocacy organization, and Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Health Policy Analyst Meredith Gonsahn delivered testimony on the importance of setting network adequacy standards and ensuring provider directory accuracy and usability. Look out for a final report from the committee in December! Read Meredith’s testimony here. Read Claire’s testimony here.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners approved an updated network adequacy model act at its Fall meeting in November. The model act is a framework that states can adopt to help ensure that consumers have meaningful and timely access to the health services in their benefit package. With more insurance companies offering narrow network plans, these basic standards are an important consumer protection, and GHF encourages state policymakers to consider tailoring and adopting the model act in Georgia. We’ll be announcing our legislative priorities for 2016 soon, and this issue will be on the list!
Who, what, when, where and why
Pranay is GHF’s Consumer Education and Enrollment Specialist. A certified application counselor, he assists consumers with enrollment into health insurance through the Marketplace. Pranay can also help you once you have enrolled with questions about how your coverage works. To set up a meeting with Pranay you can email him or give him a call at 404-567-5016 x4.
Open Enrollment 2016 (OE3) is less than 10 days away! Open enrollment is an annual period when individuals and families can choose from a variety of coverage options in the marketplace, apply for tax credits, and purchase a health plan that best meets their needs. Consumers can get 24/7 over-the-phone enrollment assistance via the Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 or can find local in-person assistance at localhelp.healthcare.gov. Individuals and families with incomes between 100% and 400% of the 2015 federal poverty level (FPL) may be eligible to receive financial assistance to help pay for their monthly premiums (see the chart below for what FPL means in real dollars). Consumers with lower incomes (between 100% and 250% of the FPL) may be eligible for additional help with out-of-pocket costs if they choose a “silver” plan. In 2015, 9 out of 10 Georgians who enrolled into marketplace plans were able to access tax credits. Consumers who do not qualify for subsidies may still be able to purchase plans through the marketplace at a full price.
Last week, GHF was on the road again traveling to Athens for UGA’s annual State of Public Health conference. The SOPH conference is a chance for public health researchers, practitioners, and students to share and learn about the newest public health initiatives and research happening across Georgia. We were excited to be featured as a presenter among other experts, advocates, and leaders in Georgia’s public health domain.
In a workshop dedicated to the Affordable Care Act, GHF teamed up with Georgia Watch to talk about Marketplace enrollment efforts in Georgia. The presentation was based on GHF’s “Getting Georgia Covered” report, which explored the successes and barriers to outreach and enrollment efforts in Open Enrollment 2. We also previewed the upcoming open enrollment period, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, and advocated for closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
The other presenters in the workshop, including another presentation from our partner Georgia Watch, comprehensively covered the new ACA requirement for hospitals to complete a community health needs assessment (CHNA) of their service area every 2-3 years and how that is being implemented in Georgia. The workshop generated some excellent questions and constructive conversation about these two very different aspects of the ACA.
Commentary from Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director
The nation’s uninsured rate has plummeted over the past year and a half. Here in Georgia, more than 400,000 people have enrolled in health insurance, bringing our state’s uninsured rate down to 15 percent. While there is still much work to be done to ensure that all Georgians have a pathway to coverage (like expanding Medicaid), it’s also important to make sure that those who are newly covered are able to access needed health care services.
Are newly insured Georgians accessing the care they need? For the most part, the answer seems to be yes. The early evidence shows that most people who signed up for health insurance have been able to find a doctor with relative ease and get an appointment for primary care within a week or two.
This is a development worth celebrating, but there are also some warning signs on the horizon that policymakers should heed: according to a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, Georgia had the highest percentage of health plans utilizing “narrow networks” of providers. In addition, reports of provider directory inaccuracies and networks too skinny to deliver all of the services in a plan’s benefit package have started to emerge.
Narrow networks offer a limited choice of providers in exchange for a lower premium. While many Georgians are willing to make this trade-off, others need a broader network to meet their health needs. And everyone deserves the tools and information to make that choice and to know that they can access services for all covered benefits.
Health care consumers now have access to standardized information about premiums, benefits, deductibles, and other health plan features that make it easier to pick the right plan. Yet provider network size and composition remain a black box for consumers, holding them back from making the best, most informed decision they can. Combined with a rapid trend toward narrow networks, this could put some consumers at risk of not being able to access all of the providers and services they need (or at risk for high medical bills if they have to go out-of-network).
At Georgians for a Healthy Future, we pride ourselves on strong partnerships. Over the past few years, we have been collaborating with Georgia Equality and the Health Initiative to ensure that the health care needs of LGBT Georgians are not neglected.
These partnerships brought Whitney Griggs, GHF’s Consumer Education Specialist, to Savannah on September 12th for the annual Savannah Pride Festival. Together with the Health Initiative, Whitney distributed information related to LGBT health care needs and spoke to festival attendees about how to enroll in health insurance. Of particular interest was our joint fact sheet with Georgia Equality on Transgender Health Care. Some of the festival attendees who picked up this fact sheet shared stories of having been denied coverage due to being trans-identified in the past, but who can now get coverage that meets their needs because of the Affordable Care Act. People that stopped by the table were also interested to learn that health care services must be provided regardless of gender identity or expression. This means that health insurance plans must cover transition-related care, as long as that care is covered for cisgendered people under on the same plan. So services such as hormone replacement therapy and gender-specific care (like mammograms and prostate exams) must be covered if they are covered for other people enrolled in the same plan.
The pre-game to the 2016 Georgia legislative session kicked off with the convening of House and Senate study committees last week. Study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues that may arise when the session gets underway. Each committee will produce a report on its findings and recommendations by the end of the year and potentially introduce legislation during the 2016 session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees.
GHF is following and participating in health-related study committees that directly impact consumers. Here’s what you need to know.
Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561)
In light of changing practices and norms in the insurance market Senate Bill 158 the Consumer and Provider Protection Act was introduced in 2015. This bill outlined provisions for consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance and created the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act. The aim of this committee is to understand how the current insurance environment is affecting the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee consists of legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative. The committee plans to examine the operations of rental networks, contractual issues between insurers and providers, and network adequacy.
The first meeting of this committee was held on September 14th at the State Capitol and focused on “rental networks,” also known as silent PPOs. The committee heard testimony from physician and insurer groups as well as from the Department of Insurance. Rental networks occur when third-party entities “rent out” physician-insurer negotiated rates to other payers. The second study committee meeting is scheduled for October 26th at Tift Regional Health System in Tifton and will focus on “all-products clauses” and provider stability issues. The committee will then be back at the State Capitol on November 9th for a meeting focusing on network adequacy and provider directories.
Georgians for a Healthy Future has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. Network adequacy refers to a health plan’s ability to deliver the benefits promised by providing reasonable access to a sufficient number of in-network primary care and specialty physicians, as well as all and other health care services an insurer guarantees to provide. GHF will present recommendations on meaningful standards to measure and ensure that provider networks are adequate, as well as how to design provider directories effectively for consumer use. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee, please contact Senator Burke, the study committee chair. Please also let GHF know if these issues have emerged for communities or populations you serve so we can provide the strongest and most informed consumer voice we can on the committee.
During the 2015 Legislative Session, the State Senate established the Consumer and Provider Protection Act Study Committee. This committee will review and make recommendations around several health insurance practices, including network adequacy. GHF has identified network adequacy, or the sufficiency of the health care providers patients can access when they enroll in a health insurance plan, as an important emerging consumer health issue. Our Executive Director, Cindy Zeldin, is a member of the study committee and looks forward to bringing the consumer perspective to the committee’s work. Cindy also recently appeared on WABE and Top Docs Radio to talk about network adequacy and participated in a panel discussion along with several state legislators at the Medical Association of Georgia’s Summer Legislative Education Seminar to discuss this important issue. Stay tuned for study committee agendas, updates, and opportunities to weigh in!