Many rural Georgians are faced with compounding health disparities, such as a lack of job-based medical insurance, long travel times to access medical services and increased rates of chronic conditions,…
Tremendous progress has been made over the past three years in increasing enrollment into health insurance that facilitates access to care and provides financial protection for individuals and families across the state of Georgia. However, too many Georgians are still uninsured, the trends toward narrow networks and consolidation within the health industry threaten to negatively impact access to care, and consumers express concerns about affordability. Addressing these issues will require collaboration between enrollment and health care stakeholders, advocates, and policymakers. Here are three things Georgia lawmakers can do to ensure that all Georgians have access to the quality of care they need.
- Close the coverage gap – Despite robust Marketplace enrollment in Georgia, we still have one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation, largely because our state policymakers have not yet closed the coverage gap. Georgia’s enrollment assisters have repeatedly expressed to advocates that this is the biggest barrier to enrollment that their consumers face.
- Addressing Affordability – Rate review is an annual process during which insurance companies submit their proposed plan rates for the coming year to be reviewed by state and federal regulators. We encourage state regulators to scrutinize these rates closely to ensure they are justified and to request adjustments if they are not. We also encourage policymakers to explore emerging approaches in health care payment and delivery reform that hold the potential to enhance value for consumers.
- Ensuring Access to Care – We encourage policymakers to build on the progress made by SB 302 by enacting comprehensive network adequacy standards in 2017.
For more details on policy and advocacy opportunities and our findings from research around the third open enrollment period, download our new report, Getting Georgia Covered: What We Can Learn from Consumer and Assister Experiences During the Third Open Enrollment Period.
Who doesn’t love to get mail? A hand-written note from a friend? An invitation to a wedding or surprise birthday party? A post-card from a family member enjoying their vacation in an exotic locale? Getting personal mail is not something that happens much this day and age, but still holds a lot of meaning to most people. If someone took the time to write you a letter to ask you to do something, wouldn’t that get your attention more than email? Now imagine that you got multiple letters asking you to do something from your friends, family members, and neighbors. That’s exactly what happened for a majority of Georgia’s state Senate and House members.
In July, Georgians for a Healthy Future mailed out stacks of post-cards to Georgia’s state legislators. These were not any post-cards. These were the postcards that GHF, with the help of the Cover Georgia Coalition, had been collecting over the past few years asking legislators to close the coverage gap. These postcards were signed by Georgians all across the state and were collected through outreach events, online petitions, and even Facebook ads. We collected more than 1100 postcards and sent them to legislators in every corner of the state. Many postcards included handwritten notes to their legislator asking them to close the coverage gap to help themselves, their family members, and fellow Georgians.
It’s not often that constituents are able to feel like they can directly communicate with their elected officials and this postcard project was intended to help give everyday people a voice for a topic that was important to them. More than 300,000 Georgians fall into the coverage gap and are unable to get affordable health insurance. Often these Georgians go without coverage and regular medical care. Many Georgians want to fix this issue and took the time to let their legislators know that they support closing the coverage gap. These postcards will have an impact as state legislators hear from their constituents that they want all Georgians have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
We will continue collecting postcards and sending them to legislators as we get them. If you haven’t signed a postcard yet, you can still do so by signing our online petition.
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin sat down with A Spirit of Charity author Mike King to discuss his new book on the role of public hospitals in America. Below is a Q&A that delves into some of the book’s major themes. On July 19th, Georgians for a Healthy Future will hold a book event in Atlanta with Mike King, providing a unique opportunity for the advocacy community to discuss the history and role of public hospitals in America and the direction of health policy in Georgia with the author.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have been writing and editing stories about medicine and natural medicine like thai kratom powder and health care policy for about 30 years where they use different kind of medicines, you could for example this reach out to one!. When the newspaper business collapsed and I chose to leave it in 2009, I thought I’d just retire and take it easy. But when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 I realized I had the time, without daily deadline pressures, to tell a story about the most important effort at reform over the last 50 years and how it might play out right here in Atlanta and at Grady in particular,.
How do public hospitals serve as a window into America’s health system?
As the book hopefully makes clear, the people who show up in the emergency rooms and clinics of America’s public hospitals are the result of all gaping holes, political compromises and unintended consequences of decades of attempts to reform our health care system. Even in our noblest of efforts, we always seem to leave whole segments of our society behind. Donald Trump, in a candid moment earlier in the campaign when the media pushed him for more details about what his alternative to Obamacare would look like, frustratingly blurted, “Look, we won’t let people die in the streets, OK?” In some ways that’s been our baseline as a health care system from the start, which is why public hospitals were created. We don’t let our citizens die in the streets. They get sick in the street but, if they are lucky, we get them to a public hospital that hopefully will rescue them from dying before they return to the streets. That’s a harsh assessment, I know, and we do much better than that in many places thanks to the commitment of engaged local and state leaders, but there are too many places where the local public hospital seems expected to shoulder this burden on its own.
Four of the five hospitals profiled in your book are located in the South, and the role of Southern politicians in crafting U.S. health policy is explored throughout the book. Why a focus on the South?
Because the South is where the most problems are. Texas, Florida and Georgia lead the nation in the dubious distinction of having the most uninsured residents among all 50 states – mostly because all three have refused to expand Medicaid the way the ACA called for. Louisiana is high on the list too, but the new governor there is moving to try to expand Medicaid. Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Jackson Memorial in Miami, the University Medical Center in New Orleans (the replacement hospital for Charity) and, of course, Grady, all have to contend with a huge percentage of patients who are poor and uninsured and could be, should be, covered by Medicaid. That’s why I chose them.
Some public hospitals like Grady were established during segregation. The 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which catalyzed hospital construction, contained a provision permitting segregation in hospitals receiving federal funds. How does this legacy of segregation impact public hospitals today?
Hill-Burton was the first time federal law actually codified a separate-but-equal funding mechanism and it was inserted into the law specifically to get members of Congress from the South to go along. Rural hospitals around the South and more than a few in the suburbs were built in the 1950s and 60s with Hill-Burton money. Grady was rebuilt as a segregated hospital in 1958. After the enactment the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Medicare in 1965 that changed. Segregated hospitals – public and private – stood to lose too much money that they would be getting for the care of previously uninsured elderly patients if they stayed segregated. But there is still a legacy to overcome. There’s a reason elderly Atlantans still refer to Grady as the Gradies, going back not that long ago to when there was a Black Grady and a White Grady, with black nurses taking care of black patients and white nurses taking care of white patients. It still complicates the public discussion about how best to finance and administer this particular public hospital. I suspect that goes on in a lot of communities around the South that share a similar legacy.
You write that public hospitals serve as a “pressure release valve” for our nation’s health system. What do you mean by this?
We often refer to these places as safety net hospitals. But I contend they are more than that. The existence of a single hospital in a community that is chartered or required to take in all patients regardless of ability to pay fundamentally alters the medical marketplace in that community. It allows those hospitals that compete with it to measure their anticipated level of charity care against their expected revenue from insured patients and come up with a formula that helps them stay healthy and able to grow. It is not that most of these competing hospitals don’t provide a responsible level of charity care. Most of them do. But it is always at a level they can afford to provide. Public hospitals operate on a totally different business model. They have to take all comers and the only way they can stay open is to get some level of funding from state and local taxes to offset their losses. Here’s another way of looking at it: If Grady had gone belly up in 2007 and 2008, all the uninsured and indigent patients it served would have swamped the emergency rooms of Piedmont, the Atlanta Medical Center, Northside, St. Joseph’s, Emory and DeKalb Medical as well as other hospitals, jeopardizing their ability to provide the level of services their business model calls for. The safety valve would have blown.
Information about Medicaid, the health care program intended to help finance care for low-income Americans, is interwoven throughout your book. How are the histories and fates of Medicaid and public hospitals intertwined?
They are the key to understanding each other because Medicaid patients make up a large portion of the patients who go to these hospitals. When Medicaid was enacted in 1965 the theory was that with a health insurance program now in place for the poor and with Medicare available to the elderly, our nation’s public hospitals would finally start getting paid for many of the services they had been providing on a charity basis. But unlike Medicare, Medicaid was hampered – I would argue fundamentally flawed – by a series of compromises to get it through Congress. States were given a much bigger role in determining how poor you had to be to qualify for Medicaid, how much they wanted to pay doctors and hospitals to provide services for Medicaid patients and indeed whether they wanted to participate in the program at all. (Arizona didn’t join Medicaid until the 1980s.) The result was a checkerboard of health care programs for the poor around the country, based largely on what the states decide. And in the South, Medicaid has been chronically underfunded at the state level and treated more like a welfare program. This is how Southern politicians get away with calling it a failure. They starve it for funds, make it difficult for low-income people to get covered by it, grossly underpay doctors and hospitals that take patients covered by it and then decry the program for not working and being inefficient.
America’s health system is characterized by fragmentation. Why do you think this is and what is the role of public hospitals in a fragmented system?
We’ve all heard it before. America has a sick care system, not a health care system. And that system is based on who pays for sick care, not necessarily how we can more effectively pay for care to help keep people healthy. The good news is that the ACA is moving in the direction of breaking down some of the silos that have developed over the decades in how we deliver and pay for health care, with an emphasis on moving away from paying a fee for specific services and toward paying for overall wellness. That’s good. But it will take years to see results. Public hospitals will need to move in this direction as well – and some of them are. Cook County’s Medicaid Program (County Care) is coordinating care with its community hospital and clinic network and the federally funded community health centers in Chicago. The initial results look encouraging. If it works it will not only save lives but help control the rise in costs. But public hospitals must adapt to these new models and remain, in most large cities, the sole providers of costly essential services like trauma, HIV/AIDS and behavioral health for those who are still uninsured.
You write that, if public hospitals didn’t exist, “We would have to invent them.” What would an America without public hospitals look like?
It would be fascinating to see, wouldn’t it? Public hospitals were created one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago when it became obvious that the charitable institutions in large American cities could not meet the demand for care caused by yellow fever, cholera, pestilence and other public health threats, not to mention the population growth in cities after the Civil War. The almshouses and infirmaries, often staffed by religious women and funded by churches and community groups, just could not keep up. I suspect the same would happen today if we came to rely exclusively on the nonprofit sector to take over the responsibility for caring for the poor and uninsured. Even if we became enlightened and created a system of true universal insurance for all Americans, there would still be a need for expensive specialty areas. Trauma care, infectious disease programs, severe, chronic mental health services – these essential services now almost exclusively provided by public hospitals – I would suspect they would require some level of local and state financing at a public facility that would go beyond what they can expect in the way of revenue from a public insurance plan.
Grady is featured prominently throughout the book. What did you learn about Grady by writing this book that you didn’t know before?
That it is even bigger and more complicated and harder to manage than I ever dreamed. I think the current administration there is doing a really good job at getting the hospital positioned to be everything it can be. The quality of the specialty services there – trauma, neuroscience, neonatology, burn care, sickle cell, infectious disease – has probably never been better, and they get well informed visiting Litchfield Neurofeedback to learn about the benefits of Neurofeedback Therapy. The cancer program there, in addition to being first rate at the acute care level, is making great strides in the community in the much-needed area of early detection and treatment. That will go a long way toward reducing the disparities that exist in morbidity and mortality between white and black, affluent and poor residents of our community. But the hospital is still heavily reliant on the business and philanthropic community to grow, especially when it comes to capital improvements and equipment. That’s all been private money since the comeback started. State and county officials have yet to step up to the plate to help. If they are willing to help the Braves and the Falcons build new venues, they must be willing to step up to help Georgia’s most important hospital build and grow and provide essential services.
What role does Grady serve in health care policy in the state of Georgia?
The state needs to recognize Grady is a statewide institution, if for no other reason than it is the training ground for about one in every four doctors practicing in Georgia. I’ve often wondered whether the state’s relationship with Grady would be different if it had been affiliated with a state medical school instead of Emory and Morehouse – two private medical schools. Perhaps then it would have paid more attention to it. Even though Grady gets patients from almost every one of Georgia 159 counties, it isn’t realistic to think the state must subsidize indigent patient care there, but it could do much better and providing funding for the specialty services that Grady provides to all Georgians – trauma care, burn care, infectious diseases, etc. And, of course, it should expand Medicaid coverage so that Grady and all other hospitals in the state that have a heavy load of uninsured patients will at least have an opportunity to recoup some of their costs.
Where do you think Georgia is headed on health care policy?
I think we’ll expand Medicaid. Eventually. After President Obama is in the rear view mirror. We’ll call it something else so it doesn’t sound like it is part of Obamacare. But we will have squandered $3 to 5 billion and 100 percent federal funding to make this impetuous political statement, and no telling how many Georgians – one study puts it at 1,200 lives a year – who died because they lived in a state where they should have, but were kept from, enrolling in Medicaid. With a little political vision – and the help of advocates and experts – my hope is that we could create a Medicaid program that isn’t so fragmented; that fully integrates primary care and acute, hospital care; that reorganizes local hospitals and health departments into a true public health system that helps people stay healthy and when they get sick have no barriers to the care that they need. That shouldn’t be a pipe dream in a country as wealthy and smart as ours. That should be a working reality. On the other hand, try to visit what is a medium.
On May 13, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, an important milestone in the movement towards health equity. Section 1557 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in all health programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance through HHS, are administered through HHS, or are established under Title 1 of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, most health insurance plans, facilities, programs, and providers are covered under this rule.
Notably, Brooksville chiropractic marks the first time that sex discrimination in health care is prohibited and also clarifies that gender identity and sex stereotyping are included in this definition. Because of these provisions, LGBT Georgians have protections from discrimination in health coverage and care. For specific information on the gender identity and sex stereotyping provisions of Section 1557, see Out2Enroll’s FAQ here. For Georgia-specific information about health insurance options for LGBT Georgians, check out the series of fact sheets that Georgians for a Healthy Future teamed up with Georgia Equality and The Health Initiative to release this past fall.
Discrimination against individuals with limited English Proficiency (LEP) is also prohibited in the health care programs and activities covered by the rule (defined under national origin). More than 1.3 million Georgians have LEP. In addition, the final rule requires effective communications with individuals with disabilities.
If you believe you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint online with the Office for Civil Rights. If you are an enrollment assister looking for resources to educate the consumers you help about their protections under Section 1557, you can access FAQs and fact sheets from HHS here.
Rural Georgians experience health disparities on multiple dimensions: they are less likely to have job-based health insurance, may have to travel long distances to seek medical care, and experience higher rates of chronic health conditions than their suburban and urban counterparts. Compounding these challenges, several rural hospitals have closed their doors in recent years and others are at risk of closure.
While there are no easy answers to Georgia’s rural health crisis, an array of stakeholders including policymakers, the philanthropic community, health care providers, local community groups, and advocates have been exploring ways to strengthen our state’s rural health infrastructure.
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As part of its Two Georgias initiative, the Healthcare Georgia Foundation recently released its findings from a “listening tour” with health care providers and policy organizations in Georgia, including Georgians for a Healthy Future. The report offers a window into what practitioners and policy advocates are thinking about the direction of rural health care and the use of Hidrex for excessive sweating and how it can be improved. Check out the write-up to learn more about rural health and about how Georgians for a Healthy Future’s campaign to close the coverage gap in Georgia fits in.
You can stand with us by sharing this infographic with your social network. Use sample tweet: Our rural hospitals are hurting – but it does’t have to be that way. It’s time we accept federal #funding to #closethegap.
Provider directories, or the listing of health care providers that are participating in a particular health plan, are intended to inform patients and consumers about which doctors are in their plan and how they can contact them to set up an appointment. For these directories to serve as the tool that consumers need, they must be accurate and up-to-date. A secret shopper survey conducted by the statewide consumer health advocacy organization Georgians for a Healthy Future, however, found these directories to be error-ridden, a problem that places consumers at risk when they seek to access an appropriate in-network health care provider. An analysis of four provider directories associated with plans offered by three of the state’s largest insurers found:
» Three-quarters of the listings had at least one inaccuracy (not in-network, not accepting new patients, not practicing at the location listed, inaccurate or inoperable phone number, or languages spoken inaccurately listed)
» One in five health care providers listed as participating in a plan’s network were not; in one directory forty percent of the providers listed were not actually participating in the plan » Among the providers who were confirmed to be in-network, thirteen percent were not accepting new patients; in one directory one in four confirmed in-network providers were not accepting new patients
» Fifteen percent of telephone numbers associated with providers listed in the directories were inaccurate or inoperable
These inaccuracies and usability limitations make it difficult for health care consumers, particularly those who haven’t had insurance before, to find and access an appropriate medical care provider. Setting basic standards for provider directories and protections for the consumers who rely upon them would go a long way towards making provider directories the tool that patients and consumers need when they shop for and use their health insurance.
Download the full set of findings here.
Crossover day is behind us and we are quickly approaching Sine Die, the final day of the legislative session. We are proud to say that one of GHF’s biggest legislative priorities – ensuring accurate provider directories for health care consumers – passed the full Senate unanimously last week! Thank you to those of you who contacted your legislators to voice your support! This week’s legislative update includes an a run down of which health care bills made it through Crossover Day and which did not. You can see a list of all the bills were’re tracking here along with supplemental information on most bills like relevant news, articles ad committee testimony delivered by GHF.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK
The Provider Directory Improvement Act
Last week SB 302 went for a vote in the Senate chamber and passed unanimously, 50 – 0! The bill is now in the House Insurance Committee where we expect it to receive a hearing soon. Join the Georgia Health Action Network(GHAN) to get important alerts about committee hearings, votes, and steps you can take to make sure your voice is heard at the Gold Dome!
Surprise Out-of-Network Billing
SB 382, the Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act had two hearings last week. While there is strong support for the legislation among consumer advocates and many health care stakeholders, hit did not pass through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee prior to Crossover Day. SR 974 is still a possible path to bring Senate-side policymakers together with stakeholders and advocates in the off-session to further study this complex issue.
Medicaid Payment Parity
The governor’s budget, introduced earlier this legislative session, maintained last year’s partial Medicaid payment parity. Full Medicaid parity would allow doctors to be reimbursed at the same rates for seeing Medicaid patients as Medicare patients. The FY 2017 budget, as passed by the House, adds $26.5 million for for Medicaid payment parity. The bill is now in the Senate for consideration.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
If you’ve been following our updates, you know that this session has seen growing interest in addressing the issue of Georgia’s uninsured rate and our struggling rural health infrastructure. Neither Sen. Rhett’s SB 368 nor Rep. Abram’s HB 823 crossed over. However, Sen. Rhett’s SR 1056, which proposes a study committee to look at approaches to covering the uninsured, is still viable as a Senate-side study committee (but would still need to pass through the Senate HHS Committee and the full Senate) and stakeholders continue to express interest in continuing the conversation passed the legislative session.
CROSSOVER DAY UPDATE
- HB 919: Tax credits for contributions to rural health care organizations – CROSSED OVER
HB 919 passed out of the House on February 25 and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The total cap for the tax credits was reduced from $250 million to $100 million. GHF encourages policymakers to look at this legislation in conjunction with other bills around closing the coverage gap and addressing rural health so that we can tackle our rural health challenges comprehensively, including developing a pathway for rural, uninsured Georgians to gain coverage so they can better access health care services and finding a solution that can drawn down federal dollars available to the state through the Medicaid program.
- HB 838: Health insurers to pay brokers a minimum of 4% of premiums collected – CROSSED OVER
This bill passed out of the House on February 24th and is now in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
- HB 1055: Repeal Certificate of Need program – DID NOT CROSS OVER
CON regulates the construction of health care facilities and the services they provide. This bill would have eliminate that structure and set up a different one based on permits. Read more on this bill from Georgia Health News.
- HB 684: To allow dental hygienists to provide certain services without direct supervision – DID NOT CROSS OVER
According to recent reports made on https://www.life-smiles.net/, this bill would have allowed dental hygienists to clean teeth in safety-net health centers with the permission of a dentist. Read more about the bill here.
- HB 965: “The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act” – CROSSED OVER
HB 965 would require that insurance companies cover stage four cancer treatment recommended by a physician regardless of cancer’s response to other treatments. The bill passed the House on February 22nd and is now in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
- SB 158: “Insurer Transparency Act” – CROSSED OVER
This bill defines and regulates rental networks through the Department of Insurance. SB 158 passed the Senate on February 16th and is now in the House Insurance Committee. Read: great guide to tenant screening
- HB 768: The ABLE Act – CROSSED OVER
The ABLE Act would establish a tax exempt account to pay for qualified expenses for people with significant disabilities that started before the age of 26. HB 768 passed the House on February 23rd and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
- SB 299: “Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative” – DID NOT CROSS OVER
SB 299 proposed to create the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative and an all-payer claims database.
- SB 291: “Georgia Affordable Free Market Health Care Act” – DID NOT CROSS OVER
SB 291 proposed to allow direct contracts between physicians and patients for primary care services.
- HB 834: Establish charity care organizations for healthcare for the uninsured – DID NOT CROSS OVER
This bill proposed tax credits for donations to charity care organizations.
- HB 694: Disclosure of Health Care Fees Act – DID NOT CROSS OVER
HB 694 would proposed to require providers to disclose all fees prior to non-emergency services.
- SB 265: Physician Direct Pay Act – DID NOT CROSS OVER
SB 265 proposed to allow direct contracts between physicians and patients for primary care services.
As SB 302 moves over to the House for consideration, we talked to Sen. Elena Parent about why she supports the Provider Directory Improvement Act.
As consumers navigate the new landscape of increasingly narrow networks and high deductibles, they need the right tools and information to choose a health insurance plan that best fits their medical needs and their household budgets. Provider directories are the primary tool available to consumers to determine whether the plan they are selecting has a narrow or broad network and to identify which providers are in their plan. As such, these directories should be accurate, up-to-date, and should truly function as a tool. Despite the important role directories play, they are notorious for being rife with errors and for lacking the functionality to help consumers make optimal choices in the market. By drawing upon model legislation from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and best practices from other states, Georgia can take steps to improve directories. This policy brief:
– explains the role provider directories play as a tool for consumer decision-making
– describes current provider directory provision in Georgia
– describes common problems with provider directories
– outlines recent policy activity around provider directories
– highlights other state examples of provider directory improvements
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.
Georgia legislative study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues and develop strategies for the legislature to address them. Each committee produces a report on its findings and recommendations that they want to move forward in the next legislative session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees. GHF has been following and participating in the study committees focused on health issues impacting consumers. Below is a run-down of committees that have published their reports, the issues they investigated, and report recommendations.
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 was to understand how the current insurance environment affects the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee members included legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative.
Committee recommendations include the following:
- Rental networks– When insurers create networks for health plans, they contract with providers who agree to offer services at discounted rates. Rental networks are created when the same insurer “rents out” or sells access to network providers, at a different discounted rate, to other payers (e.g. insurers, third party payers, employers). Oftentimes this is done without provider’s consent, so a provider may unknowingly treat someone who is part of the rental network and have to accept a different payment amount. The committee agreed that transparency for both consumers and providers can be improved by including a more complete definition of “rental networks” in Georgia Code and further defining the Georgia Department of Insurance’s regulatory authority in this area.
- Provider contracting- The committee agreed that more discussions need to take place in two areas surrounding how insurers contract with providers. First, insurers are allowed to change the terms of a contract with a provider, at any point, without the provider’s consent. Second, providers argue that some insurers include all-product clauses in contracts, which means a provider has to participate in all plans offered by the insurer or none.
- Health provider network adequacy- As you may have read in the November Peach Pulse, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has put together a model act to address network adequacy. The committee recommended convening a multi-stakeholder group to review the Model Act to determine whether Georgia should consider adopting some of the Model Act’s measures and if we need additional legislation and regulation in these areas to protect and provide an appropriate level of access to care for consumers in the future.
GHF has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. We support the setting and enforcement of network adequacy standards for all health plans in Georgia. As the multi-stakeholder group looks into these issues further, GHF will continue to add the consumer voice to the dialogue to keep consumer priorities at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers.
Senate Study Committee on Youth Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Mental Health Substance Use Disorders (SR 487)
The committee was charged with identifying prevention and screening approaches for youth substance use disorders (SUD) and examining issues around the diagnosis rate of youth attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The committee made recommendations in the following five areas:
- Behavioral therapy- Behavioral therapy should be the first line of treatment for ADHD in young children and be required treatment for any child under six who has a diagnosis and receives medication.
- School workforce- Georgia must increase efforts to reduce student-behavioral health personnel ratios in schools and maximize resources available to students.
- Clubhouse Services Provided by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD)- The committee supports the clubhouse programs that provide a place for youth to go for substance use recovery support. The committee recommended increasing state funding for them, as well as creating additional clubhouse sites across the state.
- SBIRT: Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment- While the Committee supports SBIRT programs and training in the state, currently Medicaid does not bill for services, so the Committee will continue to monitor states that have recently activated Medicaid codes for SBIRT.
- School-Based Health Clinics- The Committee plans to monitor and share findings with Georgia’s CMOs and the House Study Committee on School-Based Health Centers (see below for committee summary), to potentially convene a joint study on the issue in 2016
GHF appreciates the Committee’s special focus on SBIRT and has been working over the past two years with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse to raise awareness about the promise of taking a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention through screening. GHF will continue to advocate for the activation of Medicaid codes to bill for SBIRT services because it is an effective approach to reducing youth substance use disorders and creating a bright future for our youth.
Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare (SR 560)
The focus of the Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare was on the current condition of women’s healthcare in Georgia, areas with existing deficits, and the growing number of women who are at risk of unhealthy outcomes. Here are some of the Committee’s recommendations:
- The Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD) State Registry are important initiatives that the Committee strongly supports.
- Strategies for funding and development (e.g. loan forgiveness, tax credits, increasing GME residency slots, etc) for health care providers that serve women across the state should be increased.
- The Committee will continue to monitor the status of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Pilot Program to inform future opportunities for patient-centered medical homes and increase the use of telemedicine.
- Continue state funding to Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention under DHS and the Cancer State Aid Program for FY 2016.
House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers (HR 640)
The intent of the committee was to provide recommendations on how to establish school-based health centers in communities to ensure students are healthy and achieve academic success. Committee members looked at the associations between health and education and ways in which school based health centers can be leveraged to increase access, provide affordable care, and produce cost savings. I am giving my children focus supplements and it has really helped a lot with their grades. Key committee recommendations include the following:
- Steps to establish a SBHC should include three stages: planning, implementation, and sustainability.
- Telemedicine is an important element, especially in rural areas and is most effective when integrated into a healthcare system that is capable of delivering comprehensive services. State-wide investments should be made to increase use of telemedicine for systems of care and expanding the scope of practice for on-site providers who can be authorized to deliver services.
- Lake Forest Elementary School (Fulton County) and Albany Area Primary Health Care at Turner Elementary are models that have been successfully implemented.
The legislative session begins January 11th and many of these recommendations will be moving forward in the form of bills, policy changes within state agencies and through additional study committees. GHF will continue to follow these issues and keep you posted on progress and advocacy opportunities to get involved. Stay tuned!
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