Public Heath’s COVID tracking website is less user-friendly than the reopening scorecard, said Laura Colbert of the consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future. But the state site may be…
On November 4, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp released a draft plan that, if approved, would drastically undermine comprehensive coverage for the 417,000 consumers who now have comprehensive coverage through the marketplace. Federal law allows states to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so long as a comparable number of Georgians have coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as they would have under the ACA, and the changes do not increase the federal deficit. Even under the most forgiving interpretation of these guardrails, Governor Kemp’s proposal fails to meet the test.
Fortunately, there’s still time to fight back! The state is required to seek public comments on this plan and will be accepting comments until December 3, 2019. Comments can be submitted online at CoverGA.org, at in-person comment hearings. This is an opportunity for Georgians to tell state leaders how this plan will impact their health and finances, and the health and finances of their loved ones.
Instead of undermining the coverage that so many Georgians rely on, state leaders should focus on preserving critical consumer protections, strengthening comprehensive coverage, investing in outreach and enrollment to Georgia communities, and working to address the rising health care costs for low-and middle-income Georgians.
Disrupts coverage for more than 400,000 Georgians with a privatized marketplace
Governor Kemp’s proposal seeks to expand coverage to approximately 30,000 out of more than one million uninsured Georgians at the peril of those consumers currently enrolled in comprehensive coverage using a risky new program.
At the center of his plan, Governor Kemp aims to decentralize how consumers currently enroll in individual market coverage in favor of private web brokers and insurers. This means that consumers would no longer have an unbiased place to compare plan options and instead would be forced to rely on private entities who would have the incentive to enroll consumers in plans that offered the highest commission and not necessarily the plan that best fits their health needs.
Likely result: Georgia consumers will struggle to navigate numerous websites, translate the sales lingo of insurers, and disentangle conflicting information. For many, it may be harder to find in a plan that they feel good about.
Limits financial assistance, increasing out-of-pocket costs
Along with dismantling healthcare.gov, Governor Kemp plans to restructure financial assistance in a way that would raise premium costs for comprehensive coverage and likely cause many Georgians to lose coverage altogether. Under his plan, consumers could use financial assistance to purchase skimpier coverage, like short-term plans, that don’t have to meet the ACA’s minimum standards. Additionally, his plan doesn’t address whether or not cost-sharing reductions would be required, which currently help to lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for certain low-income consumers. As a result, Georgia consumers should expect to pay more out-of-pocket to get the care they need.
To make matters worse, because financial help is based on premiums for comprehensive coverage that will likely become more expensive under this plan, providing financial help to all eligible Georgians will cost more than what is currently budgeted. This means that some consumers who currently receive (or are eligible for) financial help would lose this valuable benefit.
Likely result: Premiums for comprehensive coverage will rise. At the same time, fewer Georgians will receive financial help to purchase coverage. Georgians will pay more out-of-pocket when they need health care.
Weakens consumer protections
In order to allow private companies to run enrollment, the Governor’s plan seeks to eliminate crucial consumer protections. The protections that may be suspended include the requirement that insurance plans include enough doctors and hospitals so people can get care (called “network adequacy”); requirements about what information insurers must provide to consumers and how that information is presented; and mental health parity, which requires insurers to cover mental health services in a similar way as other health care. The Governor’s plan assumes these new skimpy plans will provide 90% of the benefits that comprehensive coverage under the ACA provides. There is no explanation or evidence to support this assumption.
Removing the requirement to cover the ten essential health benefits and mental health parity threatens access to critical services for many consumers with pre-existing conditions. For example, treatment and recovery services for people with substance use disorders would be threatened at a time when the state continues to struggle with opioid-related deaths and substance use disorders in general. These consumer protections enable people with mental illness and substance use disorders to obtain insurance that covers their conditions without bankrupting them. Without them, consumers will have to pay out-of-pocket for life-saving care, opening them up to thousands of dollars of medical debt.
Likely impact: Skimpy plans that do not offer basic health services like prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health services will become commonplace. As a result, Georgians will have a harder time accessing needed care and will pay more out-of-pocket.
The bottom line is Governor Kemp’s plan is terrible for Georgians. Any rational analysis will find it doesn’t meet even the laxest requirements of federal law. Georgians should weigh in today to reject this plan!
Georgia currently ranks 51st in children’s mental health services but an infusion of dollars into Georgia’s system of care is expected to have a positive impact around the state. Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Of that allotment, $4.3 million are dedicated to fund 13 additional grants for the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with behavioral health needs.
Nearly one in ten Georgia children ages 2 to 17 years have one or more diagnosed emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions and these conditions become more prevalent as children hit adolescence. Behavioral health issues can manifest in chronic absenteeism, classroom disruption, discipline issues, or other adverse behaviors at school, which can prevent young people from being academically successful.
To address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s students, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) launched the Georgia Apex Program in 2015 to “[create] partnerships between community-based mental health providers and local schools to provide school-based mental health services.” The three main goals of the Apex Program are:
- To increase access to mental health services for children and youth;
- To provide early detection of child and adolescent mental health needs; and
- To increase coordination between community-based mental health providers and the local schools and districts they serve.
The Apex Program places mental health providers in schools to provide services like screening, assessment, counseling and therapy, and referrals to community support services like youth club houses. The program began with 29 community health providers in 104 Georgia schools, and as of February 2018, the program had expanded to 320 schools. Over the first two years of the program, more than 5000 students who had not previously received mental health services were screened and provided with the appropriate services and supports for their needs.
More than three quarters (76%) of the schools served by the Apex Program are located in rural areas where behavioral health services are more limited, and almost half (46.6%) are located in elementary schools so that services are available to younger students, when behavioral health conditions are often less severe and more treatable.
In addition to increasing access to care for students in need, the program has demonstrated success by integrating into a variety of school settings and improving coordination and communication between providers and school staff. Further, providers are able to bill for 75-90% of the students served each month, indicating the model may be financially sustainable.
The Georgia Apex Program is a promising model that brings mental health care services to Georgia children, reducing barriers to health care and improving their chances for academic success.
To learn more about the Georgia Apex Program:
- Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Children, Young Adults and Families or email email@example.com
- Read the resources available at Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
- Watch the video below from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and see how the Georgia Apex Program is making a difference in the lives of children and their families.
This August, GHF invited both advocates and enrollment assisters to the second annual Getting Georgia Covered summit. Bringing these two groups together was the first step in fostering ongoing conversations and partnerships to ensure that health coverage translates into meaningful access to care for Georgians. Through the summit, GHF collected feedback and input for a report that highlights how assisters and advocates can team up for consumers. We invite you to read and share Collaborating for Consumers: How Assisters and Advocates Can Inform Policy, in which you will find opportunities and best practices for collaboration to achieve our shared goals.
Direct consumer support plays an important role in assisting consumers to enroll into and maintain their health coverage. Georgians for a Healthy Future, primarily a health advocacy organization, provided direct enrollment services to Georgians in the last two open enrollment periods through enrollment events, in-person appointments, phone assistance and referrals. GHF continues to engage with other enrollment entities through its Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resources (GEAR) network which is a central hub of Marketplace resources, and provides technical support to assisters through newsletters, e-blasts, trainings, webinars, and forums.
In OE3, GHF primarily focused on post enrollment work undertaking more complex consumer cases such as resolving coverage issues with the Marketplace and insurance providers, payment issues, tax filing and reconciliation issues, and issues with supplemental documents. In this role, GHF provided crucial support to consumers and enrollment assisters to resolve these types of issues and help consumers maintain their coverage, feel free to visit https://syntheticurinereview.com/whizzinator-kit/.
Here is what our consumers reported about their experiences
GHF conducted a post-enrollment consumer satisfaction survey with 25 consumers between April and July 2016. The survey participants reported that they sought a combination of services during their appointments. The table below provides the details for each type of post-enrollment assistance.
Twenty-four out of 25 (96%) participants reported that they were able to resolve the issues that they sought assistance for, as explained by these quotes…
“Paid my premium, sent supplemental documents, added two kids to the application, received delayed cards” – Res# 1, Female, 30.
“My coverage had been suspended for over a month due to a technical issue. GHF helped me reinstate my suspended insurance by advocating on my behalf with both Marketplace and Ambetter. My benefits were reinstated within 3 business days”— Res# 16, Female, 62.
GHF Success Stories:
Tony Caldwell, a consumer with disability, was waiting to get his power wheelchair for over a year. With direct enrollment support from GHF, he was able to get his application completed during SEP and select a plan that covered his wheelchair. Tony quotes, “I finally ended up getting my power wheelchair that I had been waiting for over a year. It has helped me from passing out. Thanks to you all.”
Clyde Mohammed and his wife Sharda (West Indian couple) came to renew their marketplace plan at Switzer Public Library in Marietta. They also wanted to change their current plan since the premium was going up in 2016. Assisted the consumers to complete their application. They were found eligible for subsidies. They enrolled into a health plan with $57 monthly premium and $600 family deductible. The family was able to save over $150 in monthly premium by switching their plan.
The majority of the participants reported the Marketplace application process to be very complicated and that they couldn’t have resolved their issues without the help of an enrollment assister. Those participants who found the process to be comfortable reported the assistance they received to be the key reason. Participants also reported that this page talk about it, from the education to enrollment assisters that made it easier for them to understand and use their new health insurance.
Trends from our direct consumer support experiences and those we have heard from our partners suggested that direct enrollment assistance was crucial for consumers in making enrollment decisions as well as tackling post-enrollment issues. Direct assistance will continue to be crucial for consumers, both new enrollees and re-enrollees, in the days to come as there will be changes in participating insurance providers, premium price, and personal details such as household size and income all of which will require enrollment assisters’ expertise.
With three annual open enrollment periods completed and a fourth one just around the corner, the Health Insurance Marketplace has become established as the avenue for purchasing coverage for roughly half a million Georgians. This report builds on last year’s Getting Georgia Covered: Best Practices, Lessons Learned, and Policy Recommendations from the Second Open Enrollment Period and focuses on understanding the characteristics of the people who have enrolled in marketplace plans and the experiences of consumers and the enrollment assisters who helped them. Their insights can inform the work of advocates, stakeholders, and policymakers to reach shared goals of reducing the uninsured, improving access to care, and addressing affordability for consumers.
Inside you’ll find:
- Key themes in consumer and assister experiences during the 2016 open enrollment period
- Best practices for outreach, enrollment, and reaching eligible Georgians who remain uninsured
- Policy opportunities to increase enrollment, improve access to care, and address affordability issues
Does a strong consumer voice make a difference in health policy outcomes? According to a Mathematica Policy Research evaluation of state-level consumer health advocacy projects supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), yes!
At Georgians for a Healthy Future, consumer engagement is woven into each of our initiatives to bring the needs – and voices – of Georgia health care consumers into the public policy process. Over the past two years, one of our top priorities has been maximizing health insurance enrollment and ensuring that, once enrolled, consumers can access the care they need. Our work in this area, along with that of similar efforts in seventeen other states, was recently evaluated by Mathematica. The evaluation focused on the activities and outcomes of the eighteen Consumer Voices for Coverage (CVC) projects funded by RWJF.
Georgians for a Healthy Future was a CVC grantee in 2014-2016. Through this program, we focused on outreach, education, and enrollment in coverage and used this work to inform and strengthen our policy work. The CVC evaluation found that coalitions, such as the one led by GHF in Georgia, played a central role in successful outreach, allowed consumer advocates to work together to help maximize enrollment and retention, and helped identify policy issues needing attention.
These coalitions worked to increase enrollment in health coverage programs by building alliances with diverse stakeholders, mobilizing and engaging consumers, identifying achievable policy options to address issues arising from consumer experiences, designing and implementing communication strategies, and securing resources to sustain these efforts.
While the CVC program is winding down, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s work in this area will continue through our Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resource (GEAR) network and through our ongoing policy work around coverage, access to care, and health care value. As we continue this health policy and advocacy work, we will leverage the advocacy infrastructure and ability to translate consumer voices strengthened through CVC into concrete policy actions.
To read the complete Mathematica evaluation, click here.
We want to hear from you – new SEP rules
At the beginning of last year’s open enrollment period, GHF created GEAR, the Georgia Enrollment Assister Resource Network (GEAR). GEAR is a coalition of enrollment assisters and those closely involved in the enrollment process. Now the open enrollment is passed, GEAR is turning to tax time and special enrollment periods (SEPs). Last month, CMS announced the new special enrollment confirmation process. Georgians will now be required to provide sufficient proof to the marketplace to determine their SEP eligibility. Failure to provide supporting documents may lead to the denial of coverage. At GHF we advocate for policies that make enrollment in health insurance more inclusive and fight policies that put up unnecessary barriers. We want to hear from you about this! If you’re an enrollment assister and are experiencing trouble enrolling consumers during a special enrollment period, let us know! If you’d like to join the GEAR network, you can do that here.
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.
This workbook is a take-home, interactive resource for the newly enrolled. It covers topics that enrollment assisters may not have time to cover during the enrollment appointment, such as how to find a primary care provider, how to make your first appointment, and even how to make a budget. People can fill in the workbook with their own information so they have all of their important health coverage information in one place. Download the workbook here.