Laura Colbert, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said Monday that health care spending growth has been squeezing patients. “We hear from consumers that…
Georgians for a Healthy Future released its 2019 policy priorities at this morning’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled legislative breakfast. These annual priorities outline the issues that GHF believes are most pressing for Georgia consumers and are best addressed by the state legislature. GHF will work to move all of these issues forward by engaging state policy makers, consumers, and coalition partners throughout the legislative session and the remainder of the year.
1. Increase the number of Georgians with health insurance.
Georgia’s uninsured rate hit a historic low of 12.9% in 2016, but remains one of the highest uninsured rates in the country because Georgia has not accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians. Approximately 240,000 Georgians remain stuck in the resulting coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports closing this gap by extending health insurance to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
2. Stabilize Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace
Almost half a million Georgians are enrolled in health care coverage through the health insurance Marketplace. While Georgia’s Marketplace has proven robust, the last two years have brought declines in enrollments, as federal policy changes have undercut its stability. Other states have taken steps to shore up their markets by implementing state reinsurance programs, instituting state-level consumer protections and enforcement mechanisms, limiting the sale of short-term junk plans, and investing in outreach & enrollment. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that promote affordable, comprehensive coverage and a competitive, stable Marketplace.
3. Ensure access to care and financial protections for consumers purchasing private health insurance.
When consumers enroll in a health insurance plan, they should have reasonable access to all covered services in the plan. As narrow provider networks become more common, health care consumers are at increased risk of not being able to access the medical services and providers they need without going out-of-network and receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills. In 2015, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners adopted a network adequacy model act for states. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports using this act as a foundation to develop quantitative standards for Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future further supports legislation that will hold consumers harmless when consumers end up with out-of-network bills despite making appropriate efforts to stay in network or because inadequate provider networks require them to go out of network to receive the services that they need.
4. Set and enforce standards that provide for equitable coverage of mental health and substance use treatment services by health plans.
The 2008 passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act) required that health plans cover behavioral health services as they would physical health services. The Parity Act is only meaningful if health plans are implementing it well, consumers and providers understand how it works, and there is appropriate oversight. GHF supports legislation that sets standards and oversight procedures to ensure that Georgia consumers receive the coverage for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to which they are entitled by law and for which they have paid.
5. Prevent nicotine use and addiction by young Georgians
Georgia has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country at just 37 cents per pack, which makes tobacco much more accessible to youth in Georgia than in many other states. Moreover, Georgia does not apply an excise tax on the nicotine-delivery devices (e.g. e-cigarettes, vaping pens) that are preferred by young people today. For price-sensitive young people, increasing the price of tobacco and nicotine products decreases use and addiction, and the burden of chronic disease in Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports legislation to increase Georgia’s tobacco tax by at least $1 and to add an equitable excise tax on all nicotine delivery devices.
6. Support partners in integrating health and equity in the policies across every sector to address social determinants of health that prevent equitable access to care and equitable health status.
Factors outside the health system such as adequate housing, education, and economic opportunity impact the health of individuals, families, and communities. Left unaddressed, these and other complicating factors can inhibit the effectiveness of approaches that are strictly within the health system. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that aim to advance health and health equity by addressing the social determinants of health.
To download GHF’s 2019 policy priorities, click here.
Georgians for a Healthy future partnered with Step Up Savannah to host a health advocacy training on Tuesday, April 3rd. Advocates learned how they could participate and lead health advocacy efforts in their own community and received information about pressing health advocacy issues in Georgia. Representatives from Healthy Savannah and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council were also in attendance to share local resources.
The significance of Medicaid was highlighted throughout the event. Participants learned that Medicaid primarily covers low-income children, people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women, including 40,000 of Chatham County residents. Alyssa Green, GHF’s Outreach & Education Manager, discussed Georgia’s opportunity close the coverage gap so that 240,000 more Georgians would have access to health insurance coverage. Alyssa shared the story of a Georgia woman who works part-time at DisabilityLINK but is stuck in the coverage gap and, as a result, has trouble managing her high blood pressure.
GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert introduced ways that people can advocate for the health care issues that matter most to them, like increased access to healthcare, bringing down health care costs, and protecting the Medicaid program. She explained how to build a relationship with legislator, communicate support or opposition for significant bills, and other forms of advocacy.
The training concluded with presentations from the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council and Healthy Savannah. The two Savannah-based organizations provided participants with information and resources to promote and build a healthy local community.
If you are interested in hosting a training like this in your community, please contact Alyssa Green at email@example.com or 404-567-5016 x 2 for more information.
Legislative session is more than half-way complete
The state legislative session is more than half-way over already and the General Assembly has been working diligently to complete its constitutional responsibility to pass a state budget. Thus far the House and Senate have passed their versions of the amended FY2018 budget and are working to come to consensus on a final version. The House is still considering the FY2019 budget. Other bills prioritized by legislative leaders have made their way through the legislative process and await the Governor’s signature.
Action under the Gold Dome
GHF supports legislation that provides important consumer protections within private insurance
The first half of the legislative session has been punctuated by the introduction of many bills that would impact health care and coverage for Georgia consumers. Several of these bills stand out as they align with GHF’s policy priority of facilitating greater access to care and ensuring financial protections for consumers purchasing private insurance. For these reasons, GHF is actively supporting the following bills:
- SB 359–legislation to address surprise out-of-medical billing through improved disclosure, clarification of responsibilities in out-of-network emergency situations, and the opportunity for mediation when a consumer receives a surprise bill. (For more, see our February 5th legislative update.)
- HB 872–would allow consumers to receive services from their preferred provider at an in-network rate for the entire coverage year, if the insurer advertises the provider as being in-network at the time a consumer enrolls in a health insurance plan
- HB 873–would simplify the prior authorization process for providers and patients seeking access to restricted or expensive health services or medications and would clarify and improve the information that insurers must provide to consumers about their prescription drug coverage (Re-visit last week’s legislative update for more information about HB 872 and 873.)
Rural health care bill moves forward
One of the legislature’s biggest efforts in 2017 was the work of the House Rural Development Council which, among other things, studied barriers to health care and possible solutions in Georgia’s rural communities. The result of their studies is HB 769 which creates a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The Center would be responsible for collecting data from the health-focused state agencies and analyzing it for planning purposes, similar to the Health System Innovation Center proposed within SB 357. The bill would also make some changes to the state’s certificate of need program to make allowances for “micro-hospitals”, provides for an insurance premium assistance program for rural physicians, and increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100% of the donation.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved HB 769 last week and it must be advanced by the House Rules Committee for consideration by the full chamber.
Surprise billing legislation gets more attention
All three bills introduced to address surprise out of network medical billing will receive the attention of the General Assembly this session. HB 678 was passed by the House last Monday and has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee for its consideration. That committee plans to take up another piece of surprise billing legislation–SB 359, which provides the most comprehensive protections to consumers of the three bills–in its hearing today. HB 799, a bill that primarily addresses out of network care in emergency situations, is similarly scheduled for a hearing today by the House Insurance Committee.
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session
As the activity in the General Assembly picks up speed in the second half of this year’s session, it can be hard to keep up. We have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.
Just like any actor is no more than 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, you
are probably no more than 1 degree of separation from someone who would be impacted by Congress’s ongoing attempts to gut Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Are you or do you know any of these people?
- A child—half of Georgia’s children are covered by Medicaid, so even if the child in your life has some other kind of coverage, her best friend or classmates probably have Medicaid coverage
- A senior who already does or may soon need long term care or supports—Medicaid is the primary payer for 75% of nursing home stays in Georgia. For seniors aging in their homes, Medicaid provides home health aides and supports home modifications that allow older Georgians to age in the homes they know and love.
- A person who runs their own business—you may know a graphic designer, general contractor, photographer, or farmer who runs their own business. These entrepreneurs generally must purchase their own health insurance and many do through the health insurance Marketplace. For those just starting out, they probably receive financial assistance to help lower their premiums and reduce out of pocket costs. The AHCA proposes to significantly
reduce the amount of financial assistance available for those buying insurance on their own.
- A child or adult with a developmental or physical disability can do anything they put there mind to, you are able to get what you want no matter the circumstances,—for Georgia’s children and adults living with disabilities, Medicaid is a lifeline that provides them with access to life-sustaining health services, they are even taught Self Development Secrets to better themselves as a person. It also supports home and community-based careso that they can live, study, and work with or near family, friends, and neighbors in comfortable houses with bespoke kitchens and all the furniture and kitchen appliances as the hamilton beach 70670 food processor.
- A person of color—African Americans and Hispanics have seen historic declines in their uninsured rates since the ACA went into effect, helping to close historic disparities in insurance coverage. The proposed rollback of financial assistance for private insurance and Medicaid eligibility would have a disproportionate impact on people of color, especially children. The Medicaid changes alone are estimated to leave 70,000 black children and 40,000 Hispanic children in Georgia without coverage.
- A person with a chronic condition like diabetes, HIV, depression, or cancer—
under the ACA, people with pre-existing conditions are protected from being charged more or rejected when seeking health coverage. And insurance companies have to cover the essential health benefits meaning that the services people need for pre-existing conditions are covered too. The AHCA would allow states to waive this requirement under certain circumstances, sending people back to a time they could be priced out of coverage entirely.
- A veteran—50,000 Georgia veterans rely on Medicaid for access to health care, a 29% increase since 2013. Not all veterans qualify for care through the Veterans Administration (VA). Medicaid helps to fill the gap so that all of these brave men and women can access the care they need.
The American Health Care Act would dismantle Georgia’s Medicaid program and repeal the Affordable Care Act, threatening the coverage, protections, and supports that all of these people rely on every day. Think of the people in your life that fit into these categories–is it you? A parent or child? A close friend or colleague? Then take action to protect their health care.
Call Senator Isakson today and tell him about your friends, family, and neighbors who would be hurt because of the AHCA. Ask him to oppose any measure that 1) cuts and caps Medicaid, or 2) reduces coverage for Georgians. Call 202-224-3643 today!
Your member of Congress needs to hear from you today!
They are at it again. Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are getting closer to having the votes they need to pass the American Health Care Act, legislation that would dismantle Medicaid and threaten the coverage of millions of Americans. They may vote as early as tomorrow! Call your Member of Congress today at 866-426-2631 and tell him to vote “NO” on the bill.
The latest proposal keeps all of the bad features of AHCA such as the $4 billion cut to Georgia’s Medicaid program and plans to strip more than 560,000 Georgians of their health insurance. Added to that it would allow states to gut the main consumer protections of the ACA and return to a time when insurers could discriminate against those living with preexisting conditions – charging them higher premiums and selling them plans that don’t meet their health needs by limiting benefits and increasing out-of-pocket costs.
Now is the time for your member of Congress to hear from you. Demand that our lawmakers put the best interests of Georgians and our state ahead of partisan politics. Call your member of Congress today to tell him to vote “NO” on the AHCA. Call 866-426-2631 now!
Want to do more?
If you or a family member benefit from Georgia’s Medicaid program, join the #IamMedicaidGA campaign! Policymakers need to know that real Georgians will be impacted by their vote on the AHCA. Get started here!
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin attended the Spring Meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in her role as a consumer representative to the NAIC. At the meeting, a group of health-focused consumer representatives presented an overview of a new report authored by a diverse group of patient and consumer advocates highlighting the need to ensure that any changes to the health care system do no harm to consumers, minimize market disruption, and maintain common-sense consumer protections. The report, The Need for Continued Consumer Protections and Stability in State Insurance Markets in a Climate of Federal Uncertainty, conveys the perspective of consumer advocates on the need for continued access to high-quality health insurance products—regardless of whether and how changes are made at the federal level—and the likely impact that some proposed Affordable Care Act replacement policies will have on consumers and state insurance markets. The report discusses:
• What consumers want when it comes to private health insurance;
• The progress that has been made in reducing the uninsured rate since 2010 and the risks of full or partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act;
• Key principles—such as insuring the same number of consumers with the same quality of coverage and minimizing market disruption—that we urge policymakers to apply when considering further changes to the market; and
• Concerns about the impact of potential changes on consumers and state markets, with an emphasis on high-risk pools, continuous coverage requirements, high-deductible health insurance products, association health plans, the sale of insurance across state lines, the loss of essential health benefits protections, and the need for continued nondiscrimination protections.
An overview of the report was provided to state insurance commissioners during the NAIC/Consumer Liaison Committee meeting on Monday, April 10th during the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Spring 2017 National Meeting in Denver, Colorado. The authors of the report serve as appointed consumer representatives to the NAIC and members come from national organizations such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, Consumers Union, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness; state-based advocacy organizations such as the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Georgians for a Healthy Future, and the North Carolina Justice Center; and academic centers such as Georgetown University and Washington & Lee School of Law.
The full report is available here.
Surprise billing legislation passed by committee
SB 8 was heard by the House Insurance committee this morning and passed unanimously. Among other transparency and notification requirements, this version of the surprise billing legislation requires that providers and hospitals must provide consumers with information about the plans in which they participate, and that upon the request of consumers, providers give an estimated cost of non-emergency services before they are provided. Insurers must inform consumers whether a provider scheduled to deliver a service is in-network, and if not, an estimation of how much the insurer will pay for the services, among other notification requirements. SB 8 will now go to the House Rules committee.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Senate passed the FY2018 budget
Last week, the Senate approved the FY 2018 budget. The budgets approved by the Senate and House differ slightly, so a conference committee will be appointed to meet and work out the differences. You can check the Differences Report for specifics on the variance between the House and Senate budgets, and we will provide a brief overview of the final version once the conference committee finishes its work.
Insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids passed
SB 206 was approved by the House of Representatives today, and will require private health insurance plans to cover hearing aids for children under 19 years old. The legislation stipulates that the costs cannot exceed $3000 per hearing aid and that the plans cover replacement hearing aids every four years or when the hearing aid fails before that time. Medicaid already covers hearing aids for children who qualify for coverage.
Pharmacy Patients Fair Practices Act passed by both chambers
Both HB 276 and SB 103 were approved by the Senate and House respectively last week and will get sent to the Governor for his signature. This legislation (which we previously covered here) will regulate practices of pharmacy benefit managers so as to allow consumers access to their pharmacy of choice, provide the opportunity for home delivery of medications, and prevent consumers from over-paying for prescriptions. It is really important to find a pharmacy that you can trust, I suggest to check Canadian pharmacies which have been very reliable for me.
Legislation to synchronize multiple medications passed
SB 200 will make it easier for people to synchronize their prescriptions so that they can pick up multiple prescriptions at the same time. The bill requires that insurance plans pro-rate medication co-pays for partial prescription fills so that the schedules for medications can be synced if requested by a patient. Under current law, a person may have to pay a full co-pay even if a pharmacist is providing only a part of their 30-day medication in order to synchronize multiple prescriptions. SB 200 passed the House Insurance committee last week and was approved unanimously by the House this morning.
Surprise billing legislation progresses in both chambers
Both SB 8 and HB 71 were passed out of their respective Senate and House committees late last week. SB 8 has been held up because of a dispute between insurers and health care providers about reimbursement. The bill was amended to establish out of network payment for disputed charges at the 80th percentile of the “Fair Health” metric and was subsequently passed by the Senate Health & Human Services committee. HB 71 seeks to compel physicians who are credentialed at hospitals to accept an in-network rate when the patient is in-network at the hospital, even if the physician is not. It was passed unamended by the House Insurance Committee. Both bills await approval in the Rules Committees to receive floor debates and votes.
House passes FY2018 budget
The House of Representatives passed its version of the FY2018 budget on Friday. The budget includes increased reimbursement rates for certain primary care codes for Medicaid providers. Increased reimbursement rates are also funded for certain dental codes in PeachCare for Kids and Medicaid. The budget includes funds for two new federally qualified health centers in Cook and Lincoln counties, and 97 new primary care residency slots. The FY 2018 budget is now being considered by the Senate, which is expected to make its own changes before issuing its final approval. Check out Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s blog and budget primer for more detailed information about how Georgia spends its health care dollars.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Changes to rural hospital tax credits
HB 54, introduced by Rep. Duncan, would expand the new rural hospital tax credit program from a 70% credit to a 90% credit, among other minor changes. The tax credit program went into effect this year, after enabling legislation was passed in 2016. The proposal to increase the tax credit to 90% came after legislators received feedback that the 70% credit was too low to entice potential donors. HB 54 was approved by the House Ways & Means committee on Feb. 9, and now awaits passage in the House Rules Committee.
Opioid abuse prevention bill
SB 81 remains in the Senate Rules Committee waiting for approval for floor debate and passage after committee approval late last week. The current version of the bill requires that all physicians register and consult the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) under certain prescribing conditions. It also requires that providers report certain opioid-based Schedule II, III, IV, and V prescriptions to the PDMP. The bill sets the penalty for willfully non-compliant providers on a continuum that ranges from a warning to a felony and fine for a fourth offense and beyond. The bill also requires the tracking and reporting of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and codifies the Governor’s emergency order on an overdose reversal drug (naloxone), making it available without a physician prescription.
MARCH WITH US!
This Saturday: Atlanta March for Healthcare
Yesterday, we rallied at the Save My Care bus stop, and Saturday we will march at the Atlanta March for Healthcare! Join us as we fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act and the protections that it provides for Georgians. Hosted by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the march will cap Congress’s week of recess and send them back to D.C. with the charge to #ProtectOurCare!
Saturday, Feb. 25, 3-5 pm
Gather at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church
Re-authorization of provider fee successfully passes through legislature
On Friday Georgia’s House of Representatives voted to approve the hospital “provider fee” for another three years, and Governor Deal says he will sign the legislation tomorrow. The provider fee helps to fund Georgia’s Medicaid program by allowing the Department of Community Health to collect a tax on hospital revenues which is used to draw down additional federal dollars. The additional funds are disproportionately used to support rural and safety net hospitals that serve high numbers of indigent patients.
Oral health bills approved
Also on Friday, the Senate passed SB 12 and the House passed HB 154 which was supported by the Costa Rica dental tourism, both of which allow dental hygienists to practice in safety net settings, school clinics, nursing homes, and private practices without a dentist being present, including online dental services from sites like Asecra.com. While the bills are overwhelmingly similar, the differences between them will need to be worked out between the chambers.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Passage of Opioid Abuse Prevention Bill
SB 81 continued to draw a lot of attention last week. The bill was eventually passed by the Senate Health and Human Services committee with several significant changes. The current version of the bill still requires that all physicians register and use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), but only requires that providers report on Schedule 1 drugs and reduces the penalty for not reporting to a minimum of a misdemeanor. The current version of the bill also changed language that would have required children with ADHD to renew their prescription every five days.
Surprise billing legislation heard in committee
The Senate Health and Human Services committee began its consideration of SB 8, legislation that would protect consumers from surprise out-of-network medical billing. Testimony was heard from insurers, health care providers, hospitals, and the consumer advocacy group, Georgia Watch. While all stakeholders seem to be in agreement that consumers should be held harmless when seeking care at an in-network facility and through no fault of their own encounter an out-of-network provider, there are significant differences on the matter of provider reimbursement for services provided in those situations. No vote was taken on the legislation but is expected to be re-considered by the committee this week. HB 71, legislation that address surprise billing in a different way, is expected to receive its first hearing this week in the House Insurance committee.
Resolution introduced to encourage block grants for state Medicaid program
HR 182 was introduced last week with the purpose of providing legislative permission to the Governor and the Department of Community Health to seek per capita block grant funding for Georgia’s Medicaid program. While resolutions are non-binding and do not impact state law, this resolution could begin a risky conversation among lawmakers. Shifting Georgia’s Medicaid program from its current federal-state partnership structure to a block grant program would mean cuts in services and in beneficiaries, putting Georgia’s most vulnerable children, parents, elderly, and people with disabilities at risk if you’re in one of these cases, you could get in touch with a home care agency. Check out GHF’s block grant fact sheet for more information about the dangers of restructuring the Medicaid program. It is unclear if this resolution will get a hearing or a vote.
Mark Your Calendar!
Save My Care Rally: February 20th
With Congress taking steps to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and thus blocking the access to care so many Georgians have gained in the past several years, it is more important than ever to stand up and let them know that Georgians want to #ProtectOurCare.
On February 20th, join the Save My Care bus, GHF, and hundreds of Georgians for a rally in Atlanta. Georgia’s members of Congress will be at home for recess and it’s the perfect time to make sure your elected officials hear you loud and clear.