Laura Colbert credits her two dogs, Mud and Ginger, with helping her maintain her own health and work-life balance in the face of numerous pressing priorities.
We seem to be approaching cross-over day at the speed of light! Last week saw progress towards increasing provider directory transparency, Medicaid payment parity, ending surprise out-of-network billing, and even closing the coverage gap! Check out our updates below. If you’re looking for a complete list of all the bills we’re following, click here.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK
The Provider Directory Improvement Act (SB 302)
Last Thursday, the Provider Directory Improvement Act was passed unanimously out of the Senate Insurance and Labor committee. The bill now goes to the Rules Committee. We’re excited about the progress made and will keep you posted as the bill continues to move through the process. You can review our fact sheet on SB 302 and read our longer policy brief on the importance of accurate provider directories here.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
Last week, the Georgia Legislature held its first-ever hearing on closing the coverage gap. Closing the gap is the most important step our state policymakers can take to lower the number of uninsured, improve access to care, and stabilize the rural health infrastructure in our state. The hearing focused on discussion of SB 368, legislation introduced by Sen. Rhett to extend coverage to low-income, uninsured Georgians. While some pieces of the bill are problematic and the committee took no action, they started an important conversation. If you are interested in getting involved in the movement to close the gap, join our Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN) to receive updates on how you can help! If your organization supports closing the gap, please consider joining the Cover Georgia coalition to help amplify your voice.
Surprise Out-of-Network Billing
On February 16th, Sen. Unterman introduced SB 382, the Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act. This bill has been scheduled for a hearing today at 3:00 PM in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Addressing surprise out-of-network billing is an important issue for Georgia consumers, and the legislation is complex. Sen. Unterman has simultaneously also introduced SR 974, the Senate Surprise Billing Study Committee. Should SB 382 not move during this session, SR 974 provides legislators with the opportunity to study this important consumer issue during the off-session period.
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. Last week, $26.5 million was added to the FY 2017 budget for this purpose. While this does not restore full parity, it is a significant step towards that goal. The FY 2017 budget has passed in the House and goes to the Senate for consideration.
Rep. Duncan’s HB 919 would provide up to $250 million in tax credits to individuals or corporations for contributions to rural health care organizations. This legislation has sparked a conversation about the ever worsening plight of our rural hospitals. However, state funding could be better utilized by helping those in rural communities get health insurance coverage, an approach which would also draw down considerable federal dollars (at least $9 in federal funding for every $1 of state funding). This would be much more effective in reducing the uncompensated care burden of rural hospitals, while also providing patients with the benefits of health coverage, something that HB 919 does not accomplish in its current form. Because of this session’s multiple bills that attempt to address Georgia’s uninsured population and health care infrastructure, we hope that lawmakers will take this opportunity to consider these issues in tandem through a study committee. This will allow all stakeholders to take part in an open conversation about how to best utilize state and federal dollars to save our rural hospital and provide quality health care to all Georgians.
In this week’s Consumer Health Advocacy Today, we sit down with Sen. Rhett to talk about his proposal to close the coverage gap. Here’s what he had to say.
Georgians for a Healthy Future and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute are proud to release our joint publication: Understanding Medicaid in Georgia and the Opportunity to Improve It. Inside you will find infographics, new data, and compelling charts that simplify the complex issue of Medicaid in Georgia.
Part one explains who gets Medicaid in Georgia, how Medicaid protects Georgians during economic downturns, how Medicaid controls costs in the state, and more.
Part two outlines Georgia’s opportunity to close the coverage gap. Here you’ll find out what Georgia’s health insurance coverage gap is, how we can use Medicaid to close it, and who stands to benefit detailed by job sector, demographics, and veteran status.
Part three details economic and social benefits of closing the coverage gap. Why is closing the coverage gap a good deal for Georgia and the state’s economy? What are the savings other states realize by closing the gap? How does coverage affect a person’s financial and physical health?
Download the chart book here.
The pre-game to the 2016 Georgia legislative session kicked off with the convening of House and Senate study committees last week. Study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues that may arise when the session gets underway. Each committee will produce a report on its findings and recommendations by the end of the year and potentially introduce legislation during the 2016 session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees.
GHF is following and participating in health-related study committees that directly impact consumers. Here’s what you need to know.
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 is to understand how the current insurance environment is affecting the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee consists of legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative. The committee plans to examine the operations of rental networks, contractual issues between insurers and providers, and network adequacy.
The first meeting of this committee was held on September 14th at the State Capitol and focused on “rental networks,” also known as silent PPOs. The committee heard testimony from physician and insurer groups as well as from the Department of Insurance. Rental networks occur when third-party entities “rent out” physician-insurer negotiated rates to other payers. The second study committee meeting is scheduled for October 26th at Tift Regional Health System in Tifton and will focus on “all-products clauses” and provider stability issues. The committee will then be back at the State Capitol on November 9th for a meeting focusing on network adequacy and provider directories.
Georgians for a Healthy Future has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. Network adequacy refers to a health plan’s ability to deliver the benefits promised by providing reasonable access to a sufficient number of in-network primary care and specialty physicians, as well as all and other health care services an insurer guarantees to provide. GHF will present recommendations on meaningful standards to measure and ensure that provider networks are adequate, as well as how to design provider directories effectively for consumer use. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee, please contact Senator Burke, the study committee chair. Please also let GHF know if these issues have emerged for communities or populations you serve so we can provide the strongest and most informed consumer voice we can on the committee.
Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health Substance Use Disorders (SR 487)
The first meeting of the Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health Substance Use Disorders convened last week at the State Capitol. The committee is charged with examining prevention strategies and identifying promising approaches to address youth Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Substance Use Disorders (SUD). The first meeting included overview presentations from representatives of the Department of Education, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA). The next meeting on October 7th will focus on ADHD and the meeting following that, on October 22nd, will delve into substance use disorders. Georgians for a Healthy Future 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. We are teaming up with GCSA to host a lunch-time policy forum and discussion on this approach on October 22nd at the Loudermilk Center prior to the study committee’s meeting later that afternoon. Please save the date and we’ll send more details soon. If you are interested in testifying at the October 22nd study committee meeting to talk about prevention, please let Senator Unterman’s office know (you can also reach out to GHF and we can try to pass along your request).
Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare (SR 560)
The Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare met to discuss 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. The Department of Public Health, Department of Human Services and Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecology Society along with Dr. Daniel G. Becker and Dr. Scheinberg vaginal rejuvenation surgeon presented data and information on areas in which women’s health is in high risk and he being one of the top cosmetic surgeon make this data matters, although some women don’t like surgery and prefer to use other products as analbleachingblueprint.com/vaginal-lightening-cream for this, the policy options to move the needle in the right direction on major health indicators. The next meeting will be health on October 6, 2015, from 9am- 2pm, at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.
House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers (HR 640)
Committee members for the House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers met to explore 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. The committee heard from Voices for Georgia’s Children, the Partnership for Equity and Child Mental Health, and the Global Partnership for Telehealth on the details of the relationship between health and education outcomes. The committee tentatively scheduled the next meeting for September 29th and two additional meetings to follow.
Yesterday marked the 27th day of the 2015 Legislative Session. Crossover Day, the 30th legislative day and the deadline for a bill to pass its chamber of origin to remain viable for 2015, is set for next Friday, March 13th. Sine Die, the 40th and final legislative day for the year, will be April 2nd.
It has been a big week for health care issues at the State Capitol. GHF brought the consumer perspective to Senate Insurance on Wednesday and shared with the committee through testimony from our Executive Director the challenges that consumers face in obtaining accurate information about provider networks at the time they sign up for health insurance and why setting network adequacy standards is important for consumers. Her testimony was provided as part of the discussion around SB 158. Also this week, legislation was introduced in the Senate that would establish a study committee onpreventing youth substance use disorders, the Senate began its work on the FY 2016 budget, and a range of other health care bills were discussed.
The State Budget: The FY 2016 Budget passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate. The Senate expects to finish their revisions to the budget this week and send it back to the House and then to a conference committee.
Medicaid Parity: Last week, the House of Representatives added $2.96 million in the budget to increase reimbursement for certain OB/GYN services and $1.5 million for reimbursement rate increases for certain primary care services. Because Medicaid parity has been shown to be an effective strategy for improving access to care, GHF supports raising Medicaid reimbursement rates to parity with Medicare rates. We are advocating for a higher appropriation amount for Medicaid reimbursement rate increases as the budget moves through the process.
SBIRT Resolution: Senate HHS Chairwoman Renee Unterman officially introduced a resolution (SR 407) to form a joint House and Senate Study Committee on preventing youth substance use disorders. Through GHF’s work with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, we are advocating for a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention. This resolution gets the conversation started about how to do that in Georgia. Please take the time to thank Senator Unterman for her support of this effort and to let your elected officials know you support SR 407.
SB 158 (Sen. Burke) provides certain consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance, including network adequacy language. SB 158 has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee where it received a hearing on Wednesday, March 3. GHF Executive Director Cindy Zeldin testified in committee, focusing specifically on the network adequacy component of the bill. GHF also met with committee members individually about the bill after the committee hearing. While the bill is not expected to move in its current form this legislative session, there will likely be a study committee on the network adequacy component. GHF has identified network adequacy as an important consumer issue and plans to remain engaged on this topic as discussions move forward.
Closing the Coverage Gap: No hearings have been scheduled or are pending to address the possibility of expanding Medicaid in Georgia. Closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid would open a pathway to health insurance for approximately 300,000 uninsured Georgians, an approach which GHF supports. Two bills have been introduced to address Georgia’s coverage gap (HR 226 and SB 38), although neither is expected to receive a hearing. Please thank the cosponsors of these bills, Rep. Rahn Mayo and Senator Vincent Fort, for their support and show your support by filling out a postcard that we’ll mail to your legislators!
Tobacco Tax: No additional standalone proposals have been made to increase Georgia’s tobacco tax (other than HB 445 as previously reported). The Senate however, may respond to the House proposal on transportation funding by including a tobacco tax increase to the regional average of around 68 cents. Importantly, Alabama’s Governor is proposing an increase in their state tobacco tax to $1.25 per pack, which would increase the regional average. GHF continues to advocate for an increase to the national average by raising our tobacco tax by $1.23. Such an increase would generate $585 million per year according to the fiscal note generated by the non-partisan fiscal office at GSU.
Other Bills of Interest
Below is a summary of bills that may impact health care consumers in Georgia, with information about where they are in the legislative process.
SB 1 (Sen. Bethel) provides certain insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders. SB 1 has passed the Senate and is in the House Insurance Committee.
HB 1 (Rep. Peake) would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana as long as long as the provider is the best weed dispensary for conditions including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, parkinson’s disease, and sickle cell disease, but it is still important for people to know the the difference between CBD and THC. HB 1 passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Go to Dank City – Cannabis News, Culture, Entertainment and Information to find out more.
HB 195 (Rep. Cooper) and SB 51 (Burke) provide parameters for substitutions of interchangeable biological products. HB 195 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is expected to come out of the Rules Committee next week, and Senate Bill 51 has passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House HHS committee, but is not expected to get a hearing until after crossover day.
HB 482 (Rep. Willard) seeks to eliminate two of the requirements that the Cancer Treatment Centers of America was subject to when they were allowed into Georgia as a destination hospital.
HB 416 (Rep.Rogers), routinely referred to as the badge bill, seeks to provide clarity and transparency for the patient as to the qualifications of the provider that they are seeing. The bill calls for providers to identify the health care practitioner’s name and the type of license or educational degree the health care practitioner holds. The bill passed out of committee on Tuesday March 3.
HB 34 (Rep. Dudgeon) is known as the “Right to Try” bill and calls for patients with advanced illnesses and in consultation with their doctor to use potentially life-saving investigational drugs, biological products, and devices. The bill passed out of the House HHS committee.
HB 429 (Rep. Stephens) seeks to ban coverage denials for medically necessary treatment based solely on life expectancy or the diagnosis of a terminal condition. The bill is in the House Insurance Committee.
HB 76 The House appropriations bill, provides $200,000 to continue the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in the state, which would otherwise run out of funds and expire on June 30, 2015. The appropriations bill is currently in the Senate.
HB 504 (Rep. Cooper) would extend the flu vaccine protocol that is in place between physicians and pharmacists and nurses for adults to pneumococcal, shingles, and meningitis.
HB 436 (Rep. V. Clark) would require physicians and health care providers to offer to test pregnant women who are in their third trimester for HIV and syphilis.
HB 463 (Rep. Harbin) would permanently extend a $1,000 tax credit for “medical core clerkship” preceptors for “community based” nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Yesterday marked the 23rd day of the 2015 Legislative Session. We are getting closer to Crossover Day, the 30th legislative day and the deadline for a bill to pass its chamber of origin to remain viable for 2015. Crossover Day is set for March 13th. Sine Die, the 40th and final legislative day for the year, will be April 2nd.
As part of this week’s legislative update, we sat down with Representative Debbie Buckner and spoke with her about access to care in rural communities, Georgia’s coverage gap, and other health care issues on her mind this Legislative Session.
To watch the video, click on the image below.
The State Budget
The FY 2016 Budget passed the House of Representatives this week and now heads to the Senate for hearings. Of note, the House of Representatives added $2.96 million in the budget to increase reimbursement for certain OB/GYN services, $1.5 million for reimbursement rate increases for certain primary care services, $1.3 million to increase the hourly rate for personal support services under the Independent Care Waiver Program, and $500,000 to increase reimbursement for air-ambulance services for adult patients. The House also added in $3 million to implement the recommendations of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee. The House removed $22.8 million for new treatment medications for patients with Hepatitis C and $12.1 million for costs to launch a new case management program for enrollees eligible under the Aged, Blind, & Disabled program. Also of note, the House reinstated health coverage for non-certificated part-time school employees; however, local school districts and not the state would be responsible for those costs. Click here for an analysis of the health care provisions in the budget that passed the House from our friends at the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.
Closing the Coverage Gap
Closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid would open a pathway to health insurance for approximately 300,000 uninsured Georgians. Two bills have been introduced to address Georgia’s coverage gap (HR 226 and SB 38), although neither is expected to receive a hearing. Please thank the cosponsors of these bills, Rep. Rahn Mayo and Sen. Vincent Fort, and show your support for closing the coverage gap by filling out a postcard that we’ll mail to your legislators!
HB 445 (Carson) represents the first additional or alternative funding proposal to the transportation funding bill (HB 170). While the overall bill includes regressive provisions including an increased sales and grocery tax combined with a reduction in the income tax that GHF does not support, it is notable that a tobacco tax is in the mix in the bill. This keeps the tobacco tax on the radar and provides an opportunity for health advocates to continue to push for an increase to the national average in the tobacco tax to curb smoking rates and bring in much-needed revenue.
Other Bills of Interest
Below is a summary of bills that may impact health care consumers in Georgia, with information about where they are in the legislative process.
SB 1 (Sen. Bethel) provides certain insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders. SB 1 has passed the Senate and is the House Insurance Committee.
SB 158 (Sen. Burke) provides certain consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance, including network adequacy language. SB 158 has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee.
HB 1 (Rep. Peake) would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana for conditions including: cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, parkinson’s disease, and sickle cell disease. HB 1 passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
HB 195 (Rep. Cooper) and SB 51 (Burke) provides parameters for substitutions of interchangeable biological products. HB 195 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is expected to come out of the Rules Committee next week, and Senate Bill 51 has passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House HHS committee, but is not expected to get a hearing until after crossover day.
HB 482 (Rep. Willard) seeks to eliminate two of the requirements that the Cancer Treatment Centers of America are currently subject to when they were allowed into Georgia as a destination hospital.
HB 416 (Rep. Rogers): Routinely referred to as the badge bill, HB 416 seeks to provide clarity and transparency for the patient as to the qualifications of the provider that they are seeing. The bill calls for providers to identify the health care practitioner’s name and the type of license or educational degree the health care practitioner holds. The bill will be heard in the House HHS committee on Monday March 2, 2015 at 3 PM.
HB 34 (Rep. Dudgeon) is known as the “Right to Try” bill and calls for patients with advanced illnesses and in consultation with their doctor to use potentially life-saving investigational drugs, biological products, and devices.
As part of this week’s legislative update, we caught up with Senator Chuck Hufstetler and spoke with him about his proposal to increase the state’s tobacco tax by $1.23, which would bring Georgia up to the national average. According to a fiscal note released this week by Georgia State University at legislative request, this increase would yield more than $500 million in new revenue.
With the holiday season upon us and the electronic cigarette from slim’s ejuice, the health of our state’s children and families is at the top of all of our minds. Georgians for a Healthy Future has focused heavily on promoting policies that ensure a pathway to coverage and meaningful access to care for all Georgians in recent years, but identifying and advocating for policies that improve health outcomes is also close to our hearts. In that spirit, we believe it is time to act on tobacco, which is the leading cause of preventable disease and death. They should switch to drinking matcha instead and matcha vape to minimize addiction.
Earlier this month, Georgia’s Medicaid program amended its state plan to include a comprehensive smoking cessation program. This is an important victory that will help reduce smoking in our state. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to thank Commissioner Clyde Reese for taking this important step. There is, however, more to do. We need your partnership and your voices to help us take on the biggest hurdle we face in curbing smoking and its harmful effects: increasing the tobacco tax in our state.
According to the American Lung Association’s annual state report card, Georgia scores an “F” on tobacco taxes. Georgia currently ranks as the 48th lowest tobacco tax in the country at just 37 cents per pack. Not only does this make tobacco much more accessible to youth (and all Georgians), but it takes much needed revenue off the table for Georgia as the state tries to find funding for transportation infrastructure, education, and health care coverage for Georgians. If we don’t agree into tobacco, let’s try this new vape and its top vape juice.
In fact, Georgia is so far below the national average for tobacco taxes that we could raise our tax by over a dollar per pack and still just be at the national average. That is why this year GHF and a coalition of supporters will propose raising Georgia’s cigarette tax by $1.23 per pack. It’s as easy as 1-2-3!
One – for the kids who we can prevent from ever starting
Two – for the improved health outcomes that smoking reductions will bring, using other options to smoking as vaporizers that are easy to get now a days from sites like http://vapekey.co.
Three – for the revenue the tobacco tax will bring to our state that can be invested in coverage, access, and prevention.
Please check your upcoming editions of the Peach Pulse for updates on this issue and opportunities to take action!
The 2013 Georgia Legislative Session has ended. The 2014 state budget and dozens of bills now go to Governor Deal for his signature or veto (the governor does have the authority to line-item veto parts of the state budget). Bills that did not pass this year are still viable in the 2014 Legislative Session, which will be the second year of a two-year session. Below is a summary of bills that passed the General Assembly this year that could impact health care consumers. For a complete rundown of how health care-related legislation fared, see Georgia Health News’s recap.
Legislation that could impact Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries
The final 2014 budget eliminated proposed rate cuts for health care providers (a 0.74% rate cut had been proposed for non-primary care providers within Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids), eliminated a proposed coding change that would have resulted in cuts for certain providers, and included funds for enrollment growth in Medicaid. This is good news for access to health care services; however, Medicaid, PeachCare, and other public health programs have sustained deep budget cuts in recent years. In future years, if we are to improve the state’s health, additional investments in public health and health care delivery will be needed.
HR 107 would create a joint study committee on Medicaid reform that would study current Medicaid policies and procedures, models in other states, and other aspects of the Medicaid program and report to the General Assembly and the Governor by December 31, 2013 with recommendations. HR 107 passed both the House and the Senate.
SB 62 would create a Federal and State Funded Health Care Financing Programs Overview Committee, a joint committee of the General Assembly. SB 62 has passed both the House and the Senate.
SB 24, which would authorize the Department of Community Health to levy a fee on hospitals to continue drawing down federal funds to support Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, was passed by both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the Governor back in February. The current hospital fee had been set to expire on June 30, 2013. The renewal of the fee was essential to ensuring Medicaid and PeachCare’s solvency and preserving access to hospital care in Georgia.
Legislation impacting health insurance consumer protections and access to insurance
SB 236 would require insurance companies to send concurrently with any statements sent to consumers that provide notice of premium increases an estimate of the portion of any premium increase that is due to the Affordable Care Act. How this is determined would be left to insurance companies to calculate, and they would not have to disclose their methodology. There would also be no requirement to present information about any other factors leading to premium increases or to notify consumers about available tax credits that may more than offset premium increases or about any cost savings or benefit enhancements they are receiving as a result of the Affordable Care Act. As such, this bill would result in consumers receiving incomplete and potentially misleading information. SB 236 has passed both the House and the Senate.
HB 198 would require licensing, certification, and training for health benefit exchange navigators and would restrict their ability to assist consumers. While ensuring that consumers receive accurate information from navigators about their health insurance options and protecting consumers is an important goal shared by Georgians for a Healthy Future, HB 198’s restrictive language and potentially duplicative training requirements could deter community-focused nonprofits, whose participation in the navigator program will be essential in reaching vulnerable populations who have historically faced barriers to enrolling in health insurance, from becoming navigators or from providing appropriate consumer assistance. Georgians for a Healthy Future looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure this bill is implemented in a manner that minimizes duplication and encourages participation from community-focused nonprofit organizations. HB 198 has passed both the House and the Senate.
HB 389 would allow insurance companies to terminate, cancel, or non-renew conversion policies or any health insurance policies offered through the health insurance assignment system when guaranteed issue becomes available (with a 90-day cancellation period and a 90-day open enrollment period into new health insurance options made available through the Affordable Care Act). HB 389 has passed both the House and the Senate.