“If the governor is feeling an urgency to act and get Georgians covered, the quickest and easiest way to do that would be through Medicaid expansion,’’ said Laura Colbert of…
Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF), the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA), and the Center for Pan-Asian Community Services (CPACS) are nonprofits focused on building healthier communities. We partner together to promote policies and systems that increase access to substance use and mental health prevention, identification, and recovery services for Georgia youth.
The pandemic has dramatically shifted the lives of Georgia’s children and families. Children have faced inconsistent and uneven access to school, social isolation, and family stressors (from job loss, illness, or other changes). The potential impacts of these challenges are compounded for vulnerable youth, such as those in low-income families, in communities of color, or LGBTQ+ youth. The changes and challenges over the last year could result in or exacerbate mental illness or substance use disorders among Georgia students.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), COVID-19 has drastically reduced the utilization of mental health services among Medicaid & Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries. In 2020, there was a 34% decline in the number of mental health services used by children under 19. Nationally, this decline means that 14 million fewer mental health services were provided to CHIP enrollees.1 The decline in services means that many fewer young people are receiving needed substance use and mental health services, leaving them ill-prepared to return or continue their educations successfully. Additionally, many students lost a critical lifeline for receiving mental health and substance use services during school closures.2 Prior to the pandemic, over one in three young people relied on schools as their primary source of mental health care.
School-based substance use and mental health services are critical to ensuring that Georgia’s children have access to the services they need. Such school-based care is essential for ensuring young people are healthy and ready to learn, especially as we build back from the downstream effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgians for a Healthy Future, the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, and the Center for Pan-Asian Community Services offer the following comments with respect to the Georgia Department of Education’s utilization of ESSER funds to address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s children, with a special focus on substance use prevention and treatment.
Training School Staff on Substance Use and Mental Health
School districts should train school health personnel and staff (i.e. school counselors, social workers, and nurses) to identify substance use and mental health needs as students return to the classroom and properly refer them to appropriate services, including community mental health and substance use providers. Identifying substance use and mental health issues early, allows students to get the treatment they need before the situation turns into an emergency.
One evidence-based technique is SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. SBIRT is low-cost, effective, and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. SBIRT helps trusted adults (like teachers, school nurses, or counselors) to have structured conversations that identify students’ drug or alcohol use and connects them to follow-up counseling or treatment if needed. Georgia policymakers have also demonstrated their support for SBIRT by adopting Senate Resolution 1135 during the 2018 legislative session, which endorses SBIRT as a “best practice to facilitate academic success and positive school climate.”3 SBIRT can also be combined with other screening tools that may only address depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs so that a student’s full spectrum of needs is addressed.
Some related training for teachers and other school staff is beginning through the Opioid Affected Youth Initiative grant program from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). With their OAYI grant, GCSA is already working with the Department of Education to identify high schools in each of the sixteen (16) RESAs that are most in need of training to have compassionate and constructive with their students who either experience overdose and come back to school, or with students who have friends or loved ones who do not survive overdose. This curriculum will serve as a foundation to build the strengths of each participating school, boost their confidence in having these difficult conversations with students about substance use, and lay the groundwork for similar trainings that focus on prevention and early intervention. The program is currently operating in 16 high schools throughout the state. With additional funds from ESSER, the program could be expanded to more schools, additional school staff could be trained, and participants could be trained for conversations that range from prevention to early intervention to support after overdose.
Implementing SBIRT Pilot Projects
Pilot projects to address students’ substance use and mental health needs are an innovative and effective use of the time-bound funding appropriated to the state through ESSER. Specifically, we encourage DOE to use the funding to implement SBIRT pilot projects in all Georgia high schools.
GCSA has successfully implemented two SBIRT pilot projects, one at Marietta High School and one at Decatur High School, that demonstrated the effectiveness of providing SBIRT in high school settings. In both projects, local community members in recovery from substance use were embedded in the schools to lead the substance use screenings and conversations with students.
SBIRT pilot projects would allow schools to screen students at risk for substance use; provide opportunities for school staff to learn strategies and interventions for addressing substance use; tailor the screening and brief intervention model to the specific needs of a school; capture data and lessons learned for implementing the program successfully throughout the state; and allow schools to adopt sustainable funding mechanisms to support the programs long-term.4
Sustainable Investments in School-Based Health Services to Address Substance Use
In 2018, Georgia submitted a State Plan Amendment (SPA) to CMS to remove the Individualized Education Program (IEP) requirement for school nursing services and allow school districts to bill for school nursing services provided to all Medicaid-enrolled students. Implementing this SPA would bring in additional revenue from the federal government and increase resources for schools to address student substance use.5 For example, if the SPA were implemented and the SBIRT pilot projects were successful, school Medicaid reimbursements could cover the cost of sustaining the program. The SPA is currently on hold, but if the state revived it, ESSER funds could be used to cover the costs of setting-up the program, thus making the funding more sustainable. We encourage DOE to collaborate with the Department of Community Health to revisit the SPA and leverage ESSER funds to implement the change.
Legislative Update: Week 2
General Assembly meets for joint budget hearings
The Georgia General Assembly met last week for joint budget hearings. During “budget week” both the House and Senate heard from Governor Kemp and agency leaders about their requests for the current and upcoming state budgets. The General Assembly’s budgetary considerations consist of two parts:
1) Changes to the current FY 2021 state budget (sometimes called the “little budget”) which will run through June 30, 2021, and
2) The FY 2022 general state budget (the “big budget”), which will begin on July 1, 2021.
After the agency presentations, the House will pull together the budget requests into legislation and continue to review funding requests.
Below we highlight some of the primary asks made by the state agencies that most impact consumer health, especially during the current health crisis. For more detailed budget analysis, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Overview of Georgia’s 2022 Fiscal Year Budget.
The General Assembly will reconvene tomorrow, January 26th for the fifth day of legislative session and will schedule future days of session in another resolution.(more…)
On July 9, 2020, Georgia’s Governor announced that his administration had revised his 1332 private insurance proposal. The new proposal consists of two parts:
- A reinsurance program to lower premiums; and
- The Georgia Access model—which would separate Georgia from healthcare.gov but would not replace it, instead directing consumers to insurers and web brokers to shop and enroll in coverage.
After a 15-day public comment period during which more than 600 comments were received from the public, Georgia’s Department of Community Health made no changes and submitted the proposal to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for their review on July 31.
CMS deemed the waiver application complete on August 17. The designation began a 30-day public comment period, allowing Georgians, health advocates, and any other interested party to weigh in on the revised proposal. Because of technical difficulties with the comment submission link, the comment period was extended another seven days to September 23, 2020.
On December 23, 2019, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) submitted Governor Kemp’s 1332 private insurance proposal to federal health officials.
The plan consists of two parts:
- A reinsurance program to lower premiums; and
- A dramatic erosion of the ACA’s rules and structures, including provisions that privatize insurance enrollment; cap the financial assistance available to low- and middle-income consumers; and erode consumer protections in private insurance
DCH’s submission of the proposal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) comes after a 30-day public comment period, during nearly 1000 Georgians weighed in with their opinions on the plan. Despite the overwhelming opposition to the second part of his plan, Governor Kemp and DCH sent the proposal to federal officials with no meaningful changes.
On February 5, 2020, Governor Kemp wrote a letter to requesting that the reinsurance program be considered separately from the second part of his proposal, and that CMS’s consideration of the second part of the plan be paused. CMS responded to Governor Kemp on February 6 in a letter that deemed the reinsurance program application complete and requested more information about the remaining parts of the Governor’s proposal.
CMS’s response began a 30-day public comment period on the proposed reinsurance program, allowing Georgians, health advocates, and any other interested party to weigh in.
GHF, along with several partner organizations, submitted a comment communicating our support of the reinsurance program, while noting our deep concerns about the remainder of the Governor’s proposal. You can read the full comment letter here.
On December 23, 2019, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) submitted Governor Kemp’s Medicaid waiver proposal to federal health officials.
The Governor’s proposed 1115 Medicaid waiver, called Georgia Pathways plan, would allow Georgians with incomes below the poverty line to enroll in Medicaid coverage but only if they can meet monthly work requirements (at least 80 hours per month of work, school, training, or volunteering per month). The plan would cover only a fraction of those who could be covered by a full Medicaid expansion.
DCH’s submission of the proposal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) comes after a 30-day public comment period, during nearly 1000 Georgians weighed in with their opinions on the plan. Despite the overwhelming opposition to the plan, Governor Kemp and DCH sent their proposal to federal officials with no meaningful changes.
On January 8, 2020, officials at CMS determined Georgia’s application was complete, which kicked off a second 30-day public comment period. The public comment period allows Georgians impacted by this plan, health advocates, and any other interested party to weigh in.
Along with more than 1700 others, GHF submitted comments to communicating our deep concerns about the plan’s shortcomings. You can read GHF’s full comments here.
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.
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.
Last week, state agency heads presented Governor Deal’s proposed budgets for their respective agencies to the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
Access to care: the good news
Primary care providers will receive an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates to parity with Medicare rates, funded entirely with federal dollars made available to Georgia through the Affordable Care Act. This can help preserve and strengthen access to care for Medicaid patients seeking primary care and prevention services.
Access to care: the bad news
The Department of Community Health’s proposed budget would reduce provider reimbursement rates within Medicaid by .74 percent for providers other than hospitals, primary care, FQHC, RHC, and hospice providers. This proposed rate cut, if implemented, could jeopardize access to care for Medicaid patients who require services such as dental care, obstetrics and gynecology, and oncology, among other non-primary care services.
Hospital fee renewal moves through the Legislature
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, has passed the State Senate and will be before the House of Representatives for a vote today. The current hospital fee is set to expire on June 30, 2013. The renewal of the fee is essential to ensuring Medicaid and PeachCare’s solvency and preserving access to hospital care in Georgia.
On Friday, July 13 the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) announced plans for next steps in the “Medicaid Redesign.” Over the past several months, DCH has convened task forces comprised of stakeholders and advocates to formally provide input into this process. At the same time, advocates have come together as the CARE-M coalition to develop recommendations based on best practices for vulnerable populations. This redesign process is separate from but parallel to the conversations currently taking place regarding whether or not to move forward with implementation of the Medicaid expansion authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Ultimately, both processes will have a big impact on coverage and access to care for health care consumers throughout Georgia. In a press release, DCH said:
“Today, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) announced that it will move forward with implementing key recommendations from its Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Redesign task forces and workgroups. It will not, however, pursue wholesale restructuring of Georgia’s Medicaid program at this time because of increasing uncertainty at the federal level.”
According to DCH, the changes that the state will move forward with include:
- Proceeding with at-risk managed care to serve Georgia Families members
- Transitioning children in foster care to one designated vendor statewide within the new Georgia Families program
- Maintaining Georgia’s current Fee-For-Service structure for ABD populations and services
- Moving forward with Home and Community-based Services Rebalancing. This rebalancing will help move patients from skilled nursing facilities to home and community based services.
- Begin utilizing a value-based purchasing model. Value-based purchasing will allow DCH to continuously improve the quality of care for our members while better engaging our providers and ultimately containing costs.
- Creating a one-stop portal will improve accountability and efficiency. Specifically the portal will give health care providers better information about their members and their medical history, streamline their credentialing process, and present providers with a measurement of key performance metrics and allow them to monitor quality and outcomes compared to their peers.
- Creating a Common Pharmacy Preferred Drug List that will simplify the program and reduce administrative burden on providers
The Department has committed to continuing its work with the task forces and work group through the RFP process and past the go-live date. As members of the Children and Families Task Force and Substance Use and Mental Health Working Group, Georgians for a Healthy Future staff will continue to provide a consumer voice in these discussions and will continue to advocate for greater access to care for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. For more information about the redesign process, visit http://healthyfuturega.org/issues/medicaid-and-peachcare-redesign.
Report spotlights ways to enhance health care for GA children
New study sponsored by Voices for Georgia’s Children, Georgians for a Healthy Future
ATLANTA, Ga. – Two of Georgia’s leading health care advocacy organizations issued a report saying the state could significantly expand medical care to more than 200,000 uninsured children with administrative practices, coverage policies and technologies already being used in other states. (more…)