Peach Pulse: February 11, 2011

What’s New in Georgia

Update on the 2011 Legislative Session

With thirteen Legislative days complete, several bills have been introduced that could impact health care consumers in Georgia.

House Bill 47 would allow Georgia insurers to sell individual health insurance products with benefits equivalent to those sold in other states. This could circumvent current Georgia standards for basic consumer protections and essential medical services that all insurers must cover today under Georgia law. The Health and Life Subcommittee of the House Insurance Committee heard testimony on this legislation on Wednesday. Georgians for a Healthy Future expressed our concerns to the subcommittee. The subcommittee plans to vote on the legislation next week.

House Bill 214 would create a separate public health agency, the Department of Public Health. On December 1, 2010, The Public Health Commission issued its final report to the Governor, Speaker, and Lieutenant Governor recommending that the Division of Public Health become an independent, cabinet-level state agency, with the Commissioner reporting directly to the Governor and serving as the state’s chief health officer.
This legislation implements the recommendation of the Public Health Commission. The bill is assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.  To read a recent Georgia Health News Article on HB 214, click here.

Senate Bill 17 would create a special advisory commission on mandated health insurance benefits in Georgia. The purpose of the commission would be to assess the impact of mandated health benefits and providers and advise the Department of Insurance on these issues, among other responsibilities. The bill was unanimously passed out of the Insurance and Labor Committee on Thursday.

Senate Resolution 140 seeks to dedicate funds for trauma care from existing vehicle registration fees that are already being paid to the state.  Trauma care is a significant problem in Georgia since there are only 16 trauma centers for the state’s 159 counties and particular lack of access in rural areas.  To read recent articles on trauma funding, click here and here.

We will continue to monitor these and other health-related bills throughout the Legislative Session.

Progress Continues on Health Insurance Exchange Feasibility Study

Over the past few months, with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Governor’s Office of Planning Budget has been convening stakeholders and advocates to gather input on the feasibility of establishing a health insurance exchange in Georgia. As policymakers consider options for how to structure an insurance exchange, Georgians for a Healthy Future will continue to weigh in on behalf of Georgia consumers. Our top priorities for the exchange are that the governing body be transparent and free of conflicts of interest and that the exchange will seamlessly facilitate enrollment into private health plans as well as Medicaid and Peach Care and that it will provide a robust mechanism for consumers to make true apples-to-apples plan comparisons based on value. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new round of exchange establishment grants. We do not yet know if or when Georgia will apply for the grants, but we will keep you updated as we learn more.  To read a recent article on the exchange feasibility study, click here.

Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention Works for $1 Increase

Georgians for a Healthy Future has joined with a range of health care focused organizations to support a $1 increase in Georgia’s tobacco tax. Our current tobacco tax is only 37 cents per pack, well below the national average of $1.45. Increasing a state’s tobacco tax has demonstrable public health benefits: it reduces smoking and related death and disease; keeps kids from starting to use tobacco products; and reduces the long-term health care costs associated with treating illnesses attributed to tobacco use. A $1 increase will also generate an estimated $400 million in new revenue to mitigate cuts to other vital health care programs in the state budget. As the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure considers the recommendations of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, we will alert you for opportunities to support a $1 increase in the tobacco tax.

The Affordable Care Act and You

Small Businesses and the Economy

A recent survey of 619 small business owners revealed that 1/3 of employers who do not offer health insurance said they would be more likely to do so because of the small business tax credits—credits which are available to 84% of small businesses here in Georgia because of the Affordable Care Act.  Additionally, the report explained that there is still a gap in education about the new law to small businesses—only 43% are familiar with the new tax credits available to them.  To read the full report, click here.  Small Business Majority has a tax credit calculator to help small business owners to determine what their credits might be.  Additionally, the National Women’s Law Center has a handy tool for non-profits to determine if they too qualify for the small business tax credits.  That can be accessed here.  In addition to the tax credits available through the new law, a recent report by Small Business Majority showed that the Affordable Care Act is helping to stimulate the economy and since its enactment, job growth has consistently grown and will continue to do so in the future.   To learn more about health reform and the economy, click here.

To those of you in the small business community or to those who work with them, Small Business Majority is holding a webinar on Thursday February 17th at 3pm that will focus on what the new healthcare law means for small business.  It will focus on both federal and state provisions to help local small business owners understand how the law will affect them. Topics being discussed include: Small business tax credits— who’s eligible for them and how to claim them; State insurance exchanges; High-risk pools; Shared responsibility; Cost containment and; Tools and resources available for small businesses interested in learning more about the law. To RSVP for the webinar, click here.

Additionally, as we gear up to celebrate the 1st Birthday of the Affordable Care Act, we are looking for small businesses that have benefitted from the new law and would love to hear your story.  Please contact Amanda Ptashkin to learn how to get involved.

New Proposed Rules Benefit Students

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services released proposed rules that would apply the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections to college health plans starting in 2012, meaning college students will be guaranteed the same consumer protections and benefits as all Americans under the new law.  To read the proposed rules, click here.

National News

The Florida Ruling and Its Implications

On January 31st, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida was the first in the nation to strike down the entire health care reform law—a suit to which Georgia was a party. To date, 25 challenges to the law have been filed and 4 have been decided: 2 upholding the law and 2 finding all or part of the law unconstitutional.  Twelve cases were dismissed outright.  This ruling will have little impact on what is happening on the ground where many states are already moving ahead with implementation of the ACA.

This week, Gov. Deal, along with 28 other governors, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to direct the U.S. Department of Justice to expedite the appeals process in the multistate litigation against the new law before states begin implementing portions of it.  To read the letter sent to the President, click here.

Georgia consumers cannot afford to lose the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, including discounts for seniors struggling with the cost of lifesaving prescriptions, protections for children due to pre-existing conditions, and coverage for young adults up to age 26. To read a recent Georgia Health News article on the ruling, click here.

Medicaid Stability Protections May be at Risk

Stability protections, also known as “maintenance of effort” requirements, ensure that states do not adopt more restrictive eligibility levels or enrollment procedures in their Medicaid and Peach Care programs so that children and families can maintain stable health coverage. Several states have asked Congress to eliminate these federal stability protections so that they have flexibility to roll back eligibility for populations they cover at state option. While we recognize that states, including Georgia, are facing difficult budgetary climates, cutting health care coverage would make it harder for consumers to access primary care and manage conditions, resulting in poorer health outcomes and higher costs down the line. Cutting Medicaid would also have a negative impact on the doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals in Georgia who rely on Medicaid reimbursement funds. Please urge your Member of Congress in Washington to preserve stability protections in Medicaid and CHIP. For more information, click here.