Peach Pulse: November 8, 2010

What’s New in Georgia:

Georgia Elects New Statewide Officers, Governor-Elect Deal Names Transition Team

Last Tuesday, Georgia elected new statewide officials, including Governor-elect Nathan Deal, Insurance Commissioner-elect Ralph Hudgens, and several other constitutional officers. Governor Deal named his full transition team today. The list of members is available here.  To find out where the incoming Governor stands on health care issues, see the recent candidate questionnaire from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation. Also, while the role of the Insurance Commissioner on health care issues is less well known than that of the Governor, the new Insurance Commissioner is responsible for regulating health insurance in Georgia and enforcing consumer protections in health insurance. To learn more about how the incoming Insurance Commissioner plans to approach health care issues, see the results of our candidate survey. In addition, several new legislators were elected to the Georgia General Assembly.  To see the election results, click here.

Trauma Funding Referendum Fails on Election Day

The Yes 2 Save Lives Campaign was delivered a fatal blow on Tuesday when 53% of Georgians failed to approve Amendment 2, which asked voters to approve a $10 motor vehicle tag fee to fund a trauma care system, which would have generated approximately $80 million in revenue dedicated specifically to fund trauma care throughout the state. As such, Georgia missed an opportunity to secure a dedicated funding source for:  training 911 professionals, paramedics, critical care nurses and physicians; increasing rapid transport; providing the latest life-saving equipment and technology; and upgrading more emergency rooms to trauma centers.  Currently, there are only four level-1 Trauma Centers to serve 9.8 million Georgians.  Incidentally, deaths from trauma injuries in Georgia are 20 percent higher than the national average because access to trauma care is severely limited.  Despite the failure of the amendment to gain approval by the voters, groups like Georgians for a Healthy Future, Health STAT and others will continue to stress the need and urgency for trauma funding.  To read a recent AJC article on Amendment 2, click here.

161 Georgians Enrolled in Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan Since July

One of the early provisions of the new health law that went into effect this year was the creation of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) which provides people with pre-existing conditions an opportunity to purchase insurance without exclusions or higher premiums because of their conditions.  The PCIP, often referred to as a high-risk pool, is a bridge measure until 2014 when the health insurance exchanges will be up and operational and prohibit exclusions based on pre-existing conditions.  Back in July, many states opted to implement and operate their own high-risk pools, but Georgia instead allowed the Federal Government to operate the plan.  Figures released last week show that so far, 161 Georgians have already enrolled in the PCIP, part of the 8011 across the nation reported to have enrolled.  To view the data across the country, click here.  An estimated one in five Georgians has a pre-existing condition which could prevent them from securing private health insurance coverage.  Given that statistic, it would appear that enrollment for the PCIP is lower than expected given the need for such coverage.  It is important to remember that this is still a new program which has only been operational since July and there are procedural requirements that may be hampering enrollment. For example, for anyone applying, they must have been without insurance for six months and have been denied coverage, in writing, because of their condition.  As such, it is far too early to judge the merits of the program, but as the months go on and enrollment continues, we will see how Georgians with pre-existing conditions fare.  To read a recent AJC article on this issue, click here.

New Resource:  Georgia Health News Launched

This week, longtime health journalist Andy Miller launched Georgia Health News, an independent, nonprofit news organization that provides crucial, substantive information about health care in Georgia, including original reporting, consumer resources, and a blog. Visit the site here.

AIDS Drug Assistance Program Faces Funding Crisis:  Advocacy Opportunity

Georgia is one of nine states currently facing a funding crisis for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides life-saving medications for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. A waiting list was established for the program on July 1, and as of the end of October, there were 676 people on that list here in Georgia. The current funding gap is over $14 million. Advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS are seeking organizational sign-ons for a letter to President Obama and Members of Congress urging them to address this funding crisis with increased federal support. To learn more about the ADAP program, the consequences of this funding shortage for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS, and how to support the call for adequate funding of the program, please see Georgia Equality and the ADAP Advocacy Association.

The Affordable Care Act and You

State Health Refor(u)m

The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) has devoted a section of its website to organizing and sharing resources developed by states to implement the new health law, including information about state legislation, coordinating councils, work plans, and timelines from across the country. The State Health Refor(u)m site is here. While there is no Georgia-specific information on the site at this time, the documents housed there are a helpful resource for advocates and policymakers working on implementation here in Georgia. We will hear from NASHP Executive Director Alan Weil about key decision points for states to consider at the Georgians for a Healthy Future policy breakfast on December 7th. If you haven’t yet purchased your ticket for Health Care Unscrambled, you can do so here.

New Resource Available for Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones

The American Cancer Society released a new consumer-friendly guide to help explain how the new health law will affect cancer patients and their loved ones.  The guide, entitled, “The Affordable Care Act: How it Helps People with Cancer and Their Families,”  describes how provisions of the law improve the quality of care and make health care more affordable, available and easier for patients to understand.  The guide also shares personal stories to illustrate exactly what the new law means for families affected by cancer.  To read the guide, click here.

New Resource:  The New Health Law and Free Clinics

The Georgia Free Clinic Network has released a new guide for charitable and free clinics and their management to help navigate the changing health care safety net landscape in light of the new health care law. This is the nation’s first comprehensive manual aimed at assisting free and charitable clinics to understand the new health law and make informed decisions. For more information, see the Georgia Free Clinic Network’s website.

HHS Announces New Federal Support for States to Develop and Upgrade Medicaid IT Systems

Under the new health law, beginning in 2014 health insurance exchanges will be a one-stop shop for consumers to review and purchase insurance coverage, including those eligible for Medicaid.  With the new law, there will be a large increase in the number of people eligible for the Medicaid program, and it will be critical that infrastructure and Information Technology (IT) is in place to meet this new demand.  Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new federal funding for states to streamline and upgrade their Medicaid eligibility systems in preparation for the changes.  Additionally, HHS announced guidance to help states design and implement the IT needed to establish exchanges.  These systems will help enroll people who qualify for Medicaid or PeachCare.  To read the HHS Press Release, click here.  This is different than a recent announcement regarding “Early Innovator” grants for IT Systems for the Exchange.  To learn more about that opportunity, click here.

New Funds Available to Support Community Health Centers

Last week, HHS Secretary Sebelius announced $335 million for existing community health centers across the country under the Expanded Services (ES) initiative. As part of the new health law, these funds will increase access to preventive and primary health care, including dental health, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, and/or enabling services, at existing health center sites. Health centers requesting funds must demonstrate how the money will be used to expand medical capacity and services to underserved populations in their service areas. For more information and to view the grant application, click here.  Applications are due January 6, 2011 at 8 pm.  Currently, there are 26 Community Health Centers in Georgia that serve the needs of 76 counties.  They serve inner city neighborhoods, small towns and rural communities and make a difference in the lives of over 238,000 Georgians each year. To learn more about these Community Health Centers, visit the Georgia Association for Primary Health Care’s website.