Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the mass health insurance loss “spotlights a real weakness in our health system.” “On the other…
The weather is heating up and the official start of summer is just around the corner, but here at Georgians for a Healthy Future we’re already looking ahead to one of the hallmarks of fall: open enrollment! The fourth health insurance open enrollment period, known as OE4, will run from November 1, 2016 through January 31, 2017. Stay tuned for an announcement soon about our enrollment summit – an opportunity for Georgia assisters, advocates, and other enrollment stakeholders to reflect on OE3 and plan for OE4 – scheduled for this coming August.
Earlier this spring, new renewal policies and consumer shopping tools were announced (see a roundup of these changes from Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms) and health insurance plans released their initial rate filings (see Georgia Health News’s coverage here, including comments from GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin), giving us early insights into what we might expect in the upcoming open enrollment period. It’s important to keep in mind that initial rate filings provide important information to regulators, stakeholders, and consumer advocates but they aren’t a good predictor of what consumers will actually pay for health insurance this fall. That’s because proposed rates must first undergo scrutiny by regulators and don’t take into account consumer shopping behavior or the availability of premium tax credits.
While we’re busy preparing for OE4, we also know that health insurance enrollment does happen year-round (if you are engaged in enrollment activities this summer, please tweet about them using #enrollment365). Life changes like marriage, moving, or job loss can happen during any season, triggering special enrollment periods (SEPs). Awareness of SEPs is low, and assisters play an important role in helping consumers who qualify navigate the process. Despite low enrollment during SEPs, however, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) recently issued a new rule further tightening them. GHF is concerned these changes could dampen enrollment among qualified uninsured individuals. If you are an assister and are finding that qualified individuals are having difficulties enrolling in an SEP, please let us know.
Finally, if you or your organization helps consumers navigate the health coverage or health care landscape, please consider joining GEAR, the Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resource network. GHF formed GEAR last year to help members of Georgia’s enrollment community learn from each other, share consumer-facing educational materials, and stay apprised of best practices from around the country. Joining GEAR is free, and through it we provide networking and learning opportunities for individuals and organizations that assist health care consumers. And it helps GHF keep our finger on the pulse of what consumers and assisters are experiencing so we can be better advocates. Learn more here.
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.
GHF helped over 100 people get covered
Open enrollment formally concluded on January 31, 2016 and 587,845 Georgians enrolled in the Marketplace (healthcare.gov).
Throughout open enrollment, GHF worked to get Georgians enrolled through direct service and the creation of GEAR (or the Georgia Enrollment Assister Resource Network). GEAR is the new central hub of resources for Georgia’s enrollment assisters and community partners who work with consumers to educate them on their health and health care coverage options. If you are interested in learning more about GEAR or want to sign up for the newsletter, email Whitney. Additionally, during this open enrollment period we have provided enrollment assistance to 78 applicants and their families, totaling 141 Georgians. Of those, 91% received financial assistance.
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.
Georgians for a Healthy Future hit the road again recently, this time to Savannah! Along with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, we hosted Coverage and Access to Care: A Local Focus on Savannah. The event provided the opportunity to have a roundtable discussion about the health and health care needs of people in Georgia’s coastal region. We were joined by representatives from local hospitals, insurers, non-profit organizations, enrollment assisters, and interested Savannah residents for the gathering.
Guided by the chart book, the group had a dynamic discussion about how we could make Georgia’s Medicaid program work better for those who are already enrolled, as well as the benefits of expanding it to cover Georgians in the coverage gap. It was clear the attendees were eager to talk about improving coverage and access to care by closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
Our conversation also touched on the open enrollment period and the needs of consumers enrolling through the health insurance Marketplace (aka healthcare.gov). GHF highlighted our new toolkit and Health Insurance User’s Manual as tools to help Savannah-area consumers get enrolled, stay enrolled, and effectively use their coverage.
This roundtable event gave us the opportunity to learn from the Savannah stakeholders, meet new partners, and identify areas where we can work together to improve Georgia’s health care system. We look forward to returning to Savannah soon to build on this visit.
Georgians for a Healthy Future is excited to release our new enrollment toolkit! The toolkit is a comprehensive compilation of fact sheets, neatly organized, that are designed to walk consumers through each step of the enrollment process – from how to get health insurance (enrollment) to how to use health insurance once they have it (post enrollment). You can download it here.
Need more information like this? You’re in luck! GHF has created the GEAR Network for people just like you. GEAR is the new central hub of resources for Georgia’s enrollment assisters and community partners that are working with people to educate them on their health and health coverage options. We’ll send out weekly emails full of local resources and the information you need to know through OE3 and beyond. For more information on GEAR, check out this presentation.
Do you or does your organization work directly with consumers to help get them covered? Do people in your community come to you with questions about how to make sense of their health insurance? If so, GEAR is for you! Please join us for a webinar to introduce the new Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resource Network — GEAR! GEAR is the new central hub of resources for Georgia’s enrollment assisters and stakeholders who work to educate people on their health and health coverage options. GEAR is full of handouts, interactive consumer tools, important updates, and other materials that will help enrollment assisters and community organizations better educate Georgians on health insurance enrollment, health insurance literacy, and more.
Want to learn more about GEAR and how you and/or your organization can benefit? Join us on October 19th for a webinar where we will demonstrate how to access GEAR and review some of the materials that can be found there. We will also get your feedback about other resources you would like to see included on GEAR in the future. GEAR is built to help more Georgians connect to health coverage and we want it to work for you!
You can register for the October 19th GEAR webinar here.
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.
Whitney also gave out some tips for trans-identified folks to keep in mind when enrolling in health insurance:
- On all enrollment forms, check the sex box that matches the sex you believe is on file with the Social Security Administration.
- Some important questions to ask include:
- Is hormone replacement therapy covered?
- Is my doctor included in the plan’s network?
- Is there a network of trans-friendly doctors and/or doctors who have training working with or currently serve trans clients?
- Are reconstructive surgeries covered?
All in all, it was great day in Savannah (despite the rain) and people learned a lot from GHF and the Health Initiative.
If you have a specific question about LGBT health care and health insurance, feel free to reach out to Whitney Griggs at email@example.com or the Health Initiative at (404) 688-2524
GHF conducted in-depth interviews with and survey of enrollment assisters across the state to identify best practices and lessons learned from open enrollment 2. Here’s a summary of what worked, what didn’t, and what we can improve on next year.
What worked during OE 2: Successful strategies and best practices
Using a variety of local venues to conduct extensive outreach. Across the board, enrollment assisters identified the importance of conducting a broad range of outreach and enrollment activities at the local level. They identified a variety of venues where they successfully reached consumers including libraries, churches, college campuses, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, doctor’s offices, community health centers, cooperative extension offices, small businesses, AIDS service organizations, and local hospitals. For example, one navigator organization worked with a nurse navigator who met with uninsured consumers who presented at the emergency room at the local hospital. The nurse navigator connected these uninsured consumers to a navigator organization, allowing the organization to reach a much larger pool of consumers than if they had not had this partnership. Enroll America also provided significant support to assisters’ outreach and enrollment efforts. Assisters were limited in their ability to retain personal information about consumers, but because Enroll America only provided outreach and education, they could retain contact information and follow up with consumers seeking more information about the Marketplace.
Leveraging the support of existing partnerships for outreach. All of the assisters interviewed acknowledged that one of their best methods for reaching consumers was building upon existing relationships with community organizations. One group wrote letters to community partners letting them know of their navigator services, which created more awareness in their communities. Another enrollment assister organization had deep ties with Family Connection Partnership organizations in their area, which allowed them to have a well-known partner in each of the counties that they covered.
These partnerships allowed the enrollment assister organizations to use existing frameworks of community organizations to educate and provide enrollment assistance to the populations served by these groups. Because of the strong presence and history these partner organizations have in the communities they serve, consumers also viewed them as credible.
Developing trust with consumers. One of the most critical aspects of providing enrollment assistance was for assisters, and their organizations, to be recognized as a trusted resource within their communities. This was especially true for assisters working with immigrant and non-English speaking populations. One Spanish-speaking enrollment assister noted that it put consumers at ease to have a native speaker, rather than someone speaking Spanish as a second language, helping them to enroll. Additionally, due to the strong anti-ACA sentiment in the state, enrollment assisters reported that it was critical to be considered a trusted resource in order to overcome ideological barriers.
Reaching large numbers of people through events and local media. Enrollment events served as valuable opportunities for assisters to efficiently reach large numbers of people. For example, one of the navigator grantee organizations organized large events in rural communities to provide centralized assistance to a larger pool of consumers. These events were marketed in the local media using radio spots, newspaper ads, and movie theater ads. Additionally, some assister organizations used local media outlets to reach a large number of consumers. One organization in South Georgia held a phone bank with a local television station. The organization reported that following this event, their call volume of consumers looking for enrollment assistance picked up substantially.
What challenges and barriers remain for consumers?
Enrollment assisters identified several challenges in enrolling uninsured consumers and noted some barriers that some uninsured Georgians still face.
Many consumers had limited health insurance literacy. More than two-thirds of our survey respondents identified low health insurance literacy as a barrier to enrollment. Many of the consumers that assisters worked with had never been insured before, so they did not know how to choose a primary care physician or pay their monthly premium. One of the assisters interviewed acknowledged they needed to educate consumers on how to use their health insurance, but that it was a challenge when scheduled with a large number of enrollment appointments. Additionally, some assisters reported that consumers chose the lowest premium plan because they did not understand the concept of a high deductible. Sometimes consumers would return to the assister wanting to change plans once they had tried to use their coverage.
Many consumers fell into the coverage gap. Assisters encountered a large number of individuals and families that fell into the coverage gap, meaning that they did not qualify for Medicaid or subsidies to help them pay for Marketplace coverage and were left without an affordable pathway to coverage. Some assister organizations estimated that over half of the consumers they worked with fell into the gap. Enrollment assisters were able to provide these consumers with a list of resources where they could go to get free or low cost care, but indicated frustration at not being able to do more to help. One navigator described it as emotionally taxing to repeatedly tell consumers that came to them looking for assistance that they were too poor to qualify for health insurance.
Immigrants faced verification and language barriers. Immigrants faced many challenges enrolling in coverage. Assisters reported that, when the consumer did not speak English and the assister did not speak the consumer’s native language, using interpreter services was difficult and often ineffective. Language barriers also created difficulty because key terms and concepts associated with health insurance do not translate well. The biggest barrier for immigrants, though, was identity verification. Enrollment assisters had little or no training on how to properly verify IDs or immigration forms. Additionally, technological problems sometimes prevented them from uploading these documents to healthcare.gov. When they were unable to upload these documents electronically, consumers had to verify their immigration status through the mail, which was a long and cumbersome process. There was also a common concern from families of mixed immigration status that sharing information about their families would lead to legal repercussions. Even though none of the immigration or family information shared with the Health Insurance Marketplace is used to identify immigrants that are not here legally, this is a misconception held by many
Confusion and political opposition to Affordable Care Act hindered partnerships. Stakeholders reported that confusion and political hostility created significant barriers to outreach and enrollment. In addition, the passage of the “Health Care Freedom Act” as part of HB 943 in 2014, which included language prohibiting state and local governmental entities from operating a navigator program, among other provisions, led to confusion among local health departments and other governmental entities regarding their participation in helping consumers enroll in health insurance. An earlier version of this legislation that was not enacted, HB 707, was even more restrictive than the final language that passed and the media coverage over that bill added to the confusion. Most of these entities opted for caution, which meant that potentially powerful partnerships for enrollment were missed. This legislation also ended the University of Georgia’s navigator program (The University of Georgia operated a navigator program through its cooperative extension service during OE1).
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In a 6-3 ruling the Supreme Court upheld tax credits in the Affordable Care Act. This is a big victory for Georgia health care consumers!
As an organization committed to making sure all Georgians have access to the health care they need, Georgians for a Healthy Future is celebrating today’s Supreme Court decision! This ruling is a big win and a big relief for the more than 400,000 newly enrolled Georgians who can keep their coverage and the access to care and financial peace of mind that comes with it.
“Today we celebrate an important victory for health care consumers, and we are relieved that hundreds of thousands of Georgians can keep their coverage,” said Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director. “But there is still work to do. Georgia has the second highest rate of uninsured in the country, and three-hundred thousand Georgians fall into a coverage gap that was created by Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid.”
Now that the outcome of King v. Burwell is clear, we must not forget these workers, parents, and veterans in our state who still lack access to quality, affordable health insurance. It’s time to close the coverage gap.