Legislative Update: Surprise billing, mental health, & Gracie’s law

Legislative Update: Week 4

Legislative session paused amid budget disagreements

The Georgia legislature voted to pause the official legislative calendar last week due to the difficult and sometimes contentious discussions over the state budget. Governor Kemp’s proposed budget cuts for the current and subsequent state budgets have left the legislature to the difficult tasks of finding savings where possible, making cuts to some services and programs, and debating how to bring in sufficient revenue. Speaker of the House David Ralston has instructed the House to hold only budget-related hearings this week. 

The legislature plans to officially reconvene next Tuesday, February 18th for day 13 of this year’s legislative session. According to the legislature’s new calendar, Crossover Day (the day by which a bill has to be approved by at least one chamber in order to remain “alive” for this year) is scheduled for March 12th.

Strong surprise billing legislation introduced

Surprise billing legislation would protect consumers in emergency & non-emergency situations

Last week companion legislation were introduced in the House and Senate to ban surprise out-of-network medical billing (also called surprise billing) in emergency and non-emergency situations. SB 359 and HB 888, sponsored by Senator Hufstetler and Representative Hawkins respectively, both contain strong consumer protections and set a fair payment resolution process that takes consumers out of fights between insurers and health care providers. If passed, these bills would protect 2.6 million Georgians from surprise medical bills.

SB 359 has been read and reffered to the Senate Health and Human Services committee. HB 888 is in House first readers and in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care.

Call one or more of these committee leaders to ask for their support of SB 359 and HB 888: 

  • Sen. Ben Watson, Chairman of Senate HHS committee,
    404-656-7880
  • Sen. Dean Burke, Vice Chairman of Senate HHS committee, 404-656-0040
  • Rep. Mark Newton, Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-0254
  • Rep. Sharon Cooper, Vice Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-5069

If your state Senator or Representative is on either committee, please call them as well!

House examines mental health and organ transplant issues

Involuntary commitment emerges as theme in mental health legisation

Two pieces of mental health legislation garnered attention from mental health advocates and legislators last week.

HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, would make changes to how people in mental health or SUD crises can be committed to emergency involuntary treatment. This legislation could have negative consequences for people with substance use disorders who could be involuntarily committed to treatment under certain circumstances. This bill sits in the House Judiciary committee but the discussions of this issue may instead be moved to a subcommittee of the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission.

HB 760, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would give peace officers the authority to take a person to a physician or emergency department for emergency examination under certain circumstances. This legislation is not supported by mental health advocacy groups because it could lead to involuntary committal for people with mental health issues. The bill now sits in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.

Gracie’s Law would protect organ transplant discrimination for Georgians with disabilities

Rep. Rick Williams has introduced HB 842, titled “Gracie’s Law.” According to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), Gracie’s Law would protect patients with disabilities from being removed from the organ donor waiting list because of their disability. According to an article in GCDD’s Making a Difference magazine, “While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) denies discrimination based on any disability, there is still a lack of federal enforcement,” prompting the need for state action on this issue. This bill has been referred to the House Insurance committee. You can read more about Gracie’s Law here (pg. 12-13).

Thank you!

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Health care heroes like you submitted 1,710 comments!

Before the legislative session began, Governor Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. When health officials needed your input on the Medicaid plan, more than 1700 Georgians like you stepped up! 
 

We are incredibly grateful for your advocacy on behalf of Georgians and communities who would benefit from Medicaid expansion in Georgia. Thank you for speaking up for your friends, neighbors, and all Georgians! Now your comments become part of a powerful legal record that health officials must take into acocunt as they decide whether or not to approve Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan.

Stay tuned! Health officials are still reviewing Governor Kemp’s planned changes for private insurance. When the time comes, we will ask you to speak up again by submitting a comment again! Here and at coverga.org, we will let you know what those changes mean for you and your loved ones and when you can comment.

GHF has you covered

Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
 

GHF will be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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The Georgia Access Plan: A Bad Deal for Consumers

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On November 4, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp released a draft plan that, if approved, would drastically undermine comprehensive coverage for the 417,000 consumers who now have comprehensive coverage through the marketplace. Federal law allows states to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so long as a comparable number of Georgians have coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as they would have under the ACA, and the changes do not increase the federal deficit. Even under the most forgiving interpretation of these guardrails, Governor Kemp’s proposal fails to meet the test.

Fortunately, there’s still time to fight back! The state is required to seek public comments on this plan and will be accepting comments until December 3, 2019. Comments can be submitted online at CoverGA.org, at in-person comment hearings. This is an opportunity for Georgians to tell state leaders how this plan will impact their health and finances, and the health and finances of their loved ones.

Instead of undermining the coverage that so many Georgians rely on, state leaders should focus on preserving critical consumer protections, strengthening comprehensive coverage, investing in outreach and enrollment to Georgia communities, and working to address the rising health care costs for low-and middle-income Georgians. 


Hannah, a Georgia mom who says “My family can’t survive without the ACA.”

Disrupts coverage for more than 400,000 Georgians with a privatized marketplace 

Governor Kemp’s proposal seeks to expand coverage to approximately 30,000 out of more than one million uninsured Georgians at the peril of those consumers currently enrolled in comprehensive coverage using a risky new program. 

At the center of his plan, Governor Kemp aims to decentralize how consumers currently enroll in individual market coverage in favor of private web brokers and insurers. This means that consumers would no longer have an unbiased place to compare plan options and instead would be forced to rely on private entities who would have the incentive to enroll consumers in plans that offered the highest commission and not necessarily the plan that best fits their health needs.

Likely result: Georgia consumers will struggle to navigate numerous websites, translate the sales lingo of insurers, and disentangle conflicting information. For many, it may be harder to find in a plan that they feel good about.


Limits financial assistance, increasing out-of-pocket costs

Along with dismantling healthcare.gov, Governor Kemp plans to restructure financial assistance in a way that would raise premium costs for comprehensive coverage and likely cause many Georgians to lose coverage altogether. Under his plan, consumers could use financial assistance to purchase skimpier coverage, like short-term plans, that don’t have to meet the ACA’s minimum standards. Additionally, his plan doesn’t address whether or not cost-sharing reductions would be required, which currently help to lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for certain low-income consumers. As a result, Georgia consumers should expect to pay more out-of-pocket to get the care they need.

To make matters worse, because financial help is based on premiums for comprehensive coverage that will likely become more expensive under this plan, providing financial help to all eligible Georgians will cost more than what is currently budgeted. This means that some consumers who currently receive (or are eligible for) financial help would lose this valuable benefit.

Likely result: Premiums for comprehensive coverage will rise. At the same time, fewer Georgians will receive financial help to purchase coverage. Georgians will pay more out-of-pocket when they need health care.


Katherine, a Georgian with a pre-existing condition and ACA coverage

Weakens consumer protections

In order to allow private companies to run enrollment, the Governor’s plan seeks to eliminate crucial consumer protections. The protections that may be suspended include the requirement that insurance plans include enough doctors and hospitals so people can get care (called “network adequacy”); requirements about what information insurers must provide to consumers and how that information is presented; and mental health parity, which requires insurers to cover mental health services in a similar way as other health care. The Governor’s plan assumes these new skimpy plans will provide 90% of the benefits that comprehensive coverage under the ACA provides. There is no explanation or evidence to support this assumption.

Removing the requirement to cover the ten essential health benefits and mental health parity threatens access to critical services for many consumers with pre-existing conditions. For example, treatment and recovery services for people with substance use disorders would be threatened at a time when the state continues to struggle with opioid-related deaths and substance use disorders in general. These consumer protections enable people with mental illness and substance use disorders to obtain insurance that covers their conditions without bankrupting them. Without them, consumers will have to pay out-of-pocket for life-saving care, opening them up to thousands of dollars of medical debt.

Likely impact: Skimpy plans that do not offer basic health services like prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health services will become commonplace. As a result, Georgians will have a harder time accessing needed care and will pay more out-of-pocket.


The bottom line is Governor Kemp’s plan is terrible for Georgians. Any rational analysis will find it doesn’t meet even the laxest requirements of federal law. Georgians should weigh in today to reject this plan!   


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Philip’s story: Rural Georgians continue to struggle without health coverage

Philip is a 57 year old part-time roofer who resides in Fort Gaines, Georgia, a rural community in the southwest region of the state.

Philip suffered a knee injury along with a herniated disc in his back while repairing a roof. Because he is uninsured he has been repeatedly refused medical care because of his inability to pay. Despite making financial sacrifices to see several doctors and specialists, he has been unable to receive adequate help and get the treatment he needs. Philip says that if he had health coverage he would find the right specialist, get an MRI, and have his back fixed so he would no longer be in severe pain every day.

For the time being, Philip is able to see Dr. Karen Kinsell, the last practicing physician in Clay County. Dr. Kinsell is a volunteer physician who provides medical care to approximately 3,000 patients in a small office building that once served as a Tastee Freeze stand. Dr. Kinsell has advised Philip to stop roofing in order to ease the pain in his back but roofing is currently his family’s only income and Philip says there are no other viable job options for him in the area.

Philip believes access to health care is important and that significant changes need to be made so more people can access care. “Fix the issue, fix the problem, health insurance isn’t affordable for low-income people trying to work. Help us.”

Like Philip, 360,000 low-income Georgians, many of whom are uninsured, live in small towns and rural areas across the state. These areas have the most at stake in the debate over whether or not to close Georgia’s health insurance coverage gap. For rural Georgia residents like Philip, health coverage would open doors to the physicians and other health services that they need to stay employed or get back to work. For rural communities like Fort Gaines, more residents with health coverage could attract another primary care physician to the area.

Right now, Georgia’s policy makers are drafting two health care “waivers”. One of the waivers could be used to extend coverage to all low-income adults, including Philip and his southwest Georgia neighbors. Or state leaders could continue to ignore the needs of low-income, rural Georgians with a more limited plan.

The details of these waivers will be announced in the coming weeks and state leaders must offer online and in-person opportunities to hear public feedback. GHF will keep you up-to-date about what the waivers will mean for Georgians like you and Philip, and help you weigh in during the public comment periods!


Your story is powerful! Stories help to put a human face to health care issues in Georgia. When you share your story, you help others understand the issue, its impact on Georgia, and why it’s important.

Your health care story is valuable because the reader may be your neighbor, friend, someone in your congregation, or your legislator. It may inspire others to share their stories or to become advocates. It is an opportunity for individuals who receive Medicaid or fall into the coverage gap, their family members, their physicians and concerned Georgia citizens to show that there are real people with real needs who will be impacted by the health policy decisions made by Congress and Georgia’s state leaders.

Share your story here!


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GHF In The News

Feb 25, 2020
Family gets relief on surprise bill
Andy Miller, Georgia Health News

Consumer groups have supported the legislation. Laura Colbert of Georgians for a Healthy Future said Tuesday that the legislation “is a big step forward for Georgia consumers.’’

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