Philip’s story: Rural Georgians continue to struggle without health coverage

Philip is a 57 year old part-time roofer who resides in Fort Gaines, Georgia, a rural community in the southwest region of the state.

Philip suffered a knee injury along with a herniated disc in his back while repairing a roof. Because he is uninsured he has been repeatedly refused medical care because of his inability to pay. Despite making financial sacrifices to see several doctors and specialists, he has been unable to receive adequate help and get the treatment he needs. Philip says that if he had health coverage he would find the right specialist, get an MRI, and have his back fixed so he would no longer be in severe pain every day.

For the time being, Philip is able to see Dr. Karen Kinsell, the last practicing physician in Clay County. Dr. Kinsell is a volunteer physician who provides medical care to approximately 3,000 patients in a small office building that once served as a Tastee Freeze stand. Dr. Kinsell has advised Philip to stop roofing in order to ease the pain in his back but roofing is currently his family’s only income and Philip says there are no other viable job options for him in the area.

Philip believes access to health care is important and that significant changes need to be made so more people can access care. “Fix the issue, fix the problem, health insurance isn’t affordable for low-income people trying to work. Help us.”

Like Philip, 360,000 low-income Georgians, many of whom are uninsured, live in small towns and rural areas across the state. These areas have the most at stake in the debate over whether or not to close Georgia’s health insurance coverage gap. For rural Georgia residents like Philip, health coverage would open doors to the physicians and other health services that they need to stay employed or get back to work. For rural communities like Fort Gaines, more residents with health coverage could attract another primary care physician to the area.

Right now, Georgia’s policy makers are drafting two health care “waivers”. One of the waivers could be used to extend coverage to all low-income adults, including Philip and his southwest Georgia neighbors. Or state leaders could continue to ignore the needs of low-income, rural Georgians with a more limited plan.

The details of these waivers will be announced in the coming weeks and state leaders must offer online and in-person opportunities to hear public feedback. GHF will keep you up-to-date about what the waivers will mean for Georgians like you and Philip, and help you weigh in during the public comment periods!


Your story is powerful! Stories help to put a human face to health care issues in Georgia. When you share your story, you help others understand the issue, its impact on Georgia, and why it’s important.

Your health care story is valuable because the reader may be your neighbor, friend, someone in your congregation, or your legislator. It may inspire others to share their stories or to become advocates. It is an opportunity for individuals who receive Medicaid or fall into the coverage gap, their family members, their physicians and concerned Georgia citizens to show that there are real people with real needs who will be impacted by the health policy decisions made by Congress and Georgia’s state leaders.

Share your story here!


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Georgians in the Driver’s Seat wants to hear from you

Since launching our Georgians in the Driver’s Seat initiative with The Arc Georgia, GHF staff have spoken with consumers around the state about their transportation needs as they relate to health. During one of those opportunities, GHF met Tannyetta and her four-month-old daughter Ayla at Atlanta’s CAPN Clinic.

Tanyetta enrolled in Medicaid while she was pregnant and both she and Ayla have Medicaid coverage now. In order to get back and forth from health appointments Tanyetta uses a free transportation service through Medicaid. This benefit, available to Medicaid-covered Georgians who do not have their own transportation, is called non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). Transportation is provided in the form of pre-loaded public transit cards, van transport, rides with ride-share companies, and in other ways depending on the needs of the individual. Tanyetta does not have her own transportation but is able to get to medical appointments safely because of NEMT.

Much like Tanyetta, Georgians around the state are able to see health providers because they can use NEMT if they do not have another way to travel. For almost 400,000 Georgians each year, the service works well. However, there are times when it falls short of its promise. Patients and families are picked up late going to or from an appointment. In the worst cases, they are never picked up at all. People who use wheelchairs are picked up by vans that cannot accommodate their chairs. Parents who need to take one child to see the doctor are blocked from bringing their sibling, forcing them to find alternative and expensive childcare.

The people for whom NEMT is breaking down are often those who need it the most: patients with complex care needs. These riders are children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, seniors who would otherwise have to live in nursing homes, and people with multiple chronic conditions. Almost four million NEMT rides are provided to Medicaid-covered Georgians each year. Riders use an average of nine trips per year, demonstrating that those who use the service visit the doctor frequently and rely heavily on NEMT to get them there. When NEMT falls short for these riders, the consequences can be serious, so it is imperative the system works well all of the time.  

In order to improve Georgia’s NEMT services (so that they work all of the time, every time!), we need to hear from the people who use it. You can help! Fill out this rider survey, if you use transportation services to get to health appointments. If you are a caregiver or otherwise help people arrange for NEMT rides, we want to hear from you too.

If you do not fit into one of those categories, share the survey with someone who does! Ask your patients, your social media network, and others to fill out the survey if they have used Medicaid’s transportation services. The survey is available at this link and is open through December 09, 2019: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MedicaidTransport.

Have a story about transportation and health that you want to share? Tell us about it! We’ll get in touch with you soon to learn more.


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Aging with dignity: Georgia seniors need Medicaid

Sherry is 77 years old and lives independently in Murray County in north Georgia. She gets up five days a week at 5 am and prepares for her day, which begins with a bus ride to the RossWoods Adult Day Center. Medicaid and Medicare make it possible to spend her weekdays at RossWoods where she engages in arts and crafts and social activities designed to keep her brain and body healthy. She also receives information about her medications and doctor’s appointments. Sherry is one of over half a million seniors and people with disabilities in Georgia who depend on Medicaid and Medicare to live and function in their communities.

Sherry has several health conditions including high blood pressure, a blood clot in her heart, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, a pacemaker, and arthritis in one of her legs. On top of all that, she recently fell and broke her wrist, causing nerve damage. Thanks to Medicaid, Sherry is able to afford the medications she needs to live a functional and healthy life. She would not have the financial means to pay the standard $30–$50 copay for each of her seven medications but Medicaid means she pays just $1.20 per medication instead.

To get to the pharmacy for her medications, doctors’ appointments and RossWoods, a type of Medicaid called the Community Care Services Program (CCSP) waiver provides Sherry with transportation. CCSP waivers provide “community-based social, health and support services to eligible consumers as an alternative to placement in a nursing home.” When asked about her Medicaid coverage, Sherry said: “I couldn’t make it if I didn’t have [Medicaid]. There would be no way.”

For 168,000 seniors like Sherry who typically live on low, fixed incomes, Medicaid makes the difference and helps to pay the costs of their Medicare coverage. For some, it provides additional health benefits not covered through Medicare. For others, Medicaid allows them to age with dignity in their communities by covering needed home and living adaptations like chair lifts, wheelchair ramps, or engaging day programs with trained staff.


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Happening Now: Changes in health care for Georgians

In March 2019, Georgia lawmakers approved SB 106, the Patients First Act. The new law allows Georgia to use two kinds of health care waivers to make changes to health coverage in the state. These waiver plans could affect you, your friends, family, neighbors, and Georgians all across the state and the way you access and pay for health care.

(Waivers allow a state to set aside or “waive” certain requirements imposed by the federal government and try new models of providing health coverage and care.)

The state has hired Deloitte as a consultant to work with state leaders to develop the waiver plans. Georgia’s decision-makers have proposed an aggressive timeline and aim to finalize the waiver plans by the end of 2019.

Waiver timeline (Based on current information and subject to change)

Two types of waiver plans

Two types of plans are being developed by state leaders: an 1115 waiver and a 1332 waiver. An 1115 waiver allows Georgia to make changes to the state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid is the state’s health insurance program that covers kids, some low-income parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, and pregnant women. SB 106 limits the 1115 waiver to cover people making up to the poverty line (about $12,000 a year for an individual or $26,000 for a family of four). Medicaid expansion, which GHF has advocated for, would extend public coverage to people with incomes just above the poverty line (138% of the federal poverty line.) A successful way to use an 1115 waiver would be to cover everyone under the poverty line and exclude barriers to coverage such as burdensome paperwork requirements, confusing cost-sharing, or counterproductive lock-out periods.

A 1332 waiver allows the state to make changes to private insurance and the health insurance marketplace. About 450,000 Georgians buy their health coverage through the marketplace. Most of these Georgians receive federal tax credits to cover some or all of their premium costs. (Another 827,600 of Georgians are eligible for private coverage and financial help to buy it but have not yet enrolled.) A successful way to use a 1332 waiver is to establish a “reinsurance program” to reduce premium costs. This waiver should also ensure all plans continue to cover the essential health benefits (like prescription drugs) and maintain protections for people with preexisting conditions.

You can weigh in!

Now is the time to ensure that Georgia gets a plan that will provide comprehensive coverage to as many people as possible. Thousands of Georgians across the state could gain health care coverage through the Patients First proposals. While positive intentions have been expressed by Georgia’s elected officials about the forthcoming waivers, none has yet committed to ensuring all Georgians have a pathway to comprehensive, affordable coverage.

For every 1115 and 1332 waiver that the state wants to pursue, Georgia’s policymakers must seek input from the public. Because there are required state and federal public comment periods for each waiver proposal, there will be at least four public comment periods (a state and federal period for an 1115 waiver and a state and federal period for a 1332 waiver). These are your chances to help shape and influence health care in Georgia!

GHF and our Cover Georgia partners will let you know when the public comment periods begin and end and we will provide an easy way for you to have your say. Make a plan to submit comments during every public comment period so that state leaders know how their ideas will impact you and your family! Your story can help make a difference for thousands of Georgians and can support positive changes in health care coverage.

To learn more, visit coverga.org and download our new Happening Now fact sheet! Follow #CoverGA on FaceBook and Twitter for the most current updates!


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Competitive award from Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta allows GHF to thrive

In late 2018, Georgians for a Healthy Future was awarded a General Operating Support grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The Foundation works to connect the passions of philanthropists with the purposes of nonprofits. Awards were given through a highly competitive process and we are excited about this partnership as we continue to work to ensure quality, affordable health care for all Georgians.

GHF was one of twenty-nine nonprofits to have received this highly competitive General Operating support grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Seven nonprofits, including GHF, were awarded grants to support well-being and “ensure a healthy region where all residents have access to quality health care and nutritious food.”

With the support of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, GHF continues to offer Georgians the tools and information they need to become effective health advocates for themselves and their communities, inject the consumer perspective into health care stories in the media, and convene partner groups in coalition to strengthen our collective ability to advocate for the needs of Georgians across the state. We are ecstatic to have been among the select organizations who share our vision and drive to improve the lives of the people of Georgia. We look forward to continuing our work as the voice for Georgia health care consumers with the support of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

Read the Foundation’s December 2018 press release.


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Sine Die

The 2019 Georgia legislative session is over but we are not finished! 

Yesterday was Sine Die at the Georgia General Assembly – the last day of the 2019 legislative session. This year’s session saw the approval of several bills that will surely impact consumers’ health and finances in positive ways if approved by the Governor. Efforts to address step therapy so patients have access to needed therapies and housing so that families can be assured of safe, healthy places to live have been multi-year efforts by consumer and family advocates. These bills now move to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and signature.

The impact of other bills is less certain. SB 106 may bring sweeping changes to Georgia’s health care landscape but the details have yet to be laid out. The passage of legislation is only the first step in a health reform process in which your voice and advocacy will be needed. (Learn more about the next steps and what to expect in our latest blog post and in the section below.)

Check out our summary of the more notable health bills of the 2019 session below and a full list of health care-related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

Our priorities
Governor Kemp signs Patients First Act into law but its impacts on Georgians still uncertain

SB 106, the Patients First Act, moved quickly through the Georgia General Assembly this session and was signed into law by Governor Kemp last week. As we have reported, the bill allows the state to pursue an 1115 waiver to make changes to Georgia’s Medicaid program that may include expanding coverage to more poor adults and a 1332 state innovation waiver to make changes to private insurance in the state.

Now that the bill is signed, what’s next? You are critical to ensuring that the waivers created from SB 106 lead Georgia to the healthy future that we all want. Your advocacy, stories, and input are necessary. Read our new blog so you know what to expect and how you can help ensure all Georgians have meaningful, affordable health coverage.

 


Pills

Step therapy legislation approved

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, will require health insurance plans to establish step therapy protocols and outline a process for health care providers to request exceptions. Step therapy is a requirement by some insurers that patients try a series of lower-cost treatments before the insurer will cover the higher-cost treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician. The bill received final approval by the House on Tuesday

Call Governor Kemp at 404-656-1776 and ask that he sign HB 63.


Surprise billing legislation fails to cross the finish line

Surprise billing legislation faced familiar roadblocks this year when provider groups and insurers could not come to agreement about payments for out-of-network care. There were late efforts to revive some or all of HB 84 and SB 56 but neither succeeded. (Both bills are covered in detail in our Februrary 11th legislative update.) We are grateful to Chairman Richard Smith and Chairman Hufstetler for their work on this important issue and hope to find a resolution for consumers in the next legislative session.


Healthy housing legislation passes

GHF, as part of the Healthy Housing Georgia coalition, supported HB 346. This bill will prohibit retaliation by a landlord against a tenant for complaining to Code Enforcement about unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions like the presence of mold, radon, rodents, insect infestations, or lead. If the Governor signs the bill into law, Georgia will join the ranks of forty-one other states that have already implemented similar legislation to protect tenants against retaliatory evictions. (For more details on the legislation, see our March 5th legislative update.)

Call Governor Kemp at 404-656-1776 and ask that he sign HB 346.


Sine Die Recap

HB 30: Amended FY 2019 Budget | SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

HB 30 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2019. The “little budget” has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and been signed by the Governor. The amended budget went into effect on Tuesday, March 12th.


HB 31: FY 2020 Budget | PASSED

HB 31 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. The budget includes several new investments in behavioral health and mostly maintains funding for other health care programs and priorities. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY 2020 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


HB 37: Expand Medicaid Now Act | DID NOT PASS

HB 37, sponsored by Rep. Bob Trammell, expands Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act by increasing Medicaid eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty guidelines (FPL). This is equivalent to $17,236 annually for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.


HB 158: Improve Medicaid patient access to effective HIV treatment | DID NOT PASS*

HB 158, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, requires that Medicaid recipients have the same access to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS as to those included in the formulary established for the Georgia AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This change would allow for increased continuity of care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia. *Although HB 158 did not get a Senate vote, it received favorable comments in the Senate Health Committee, after passing the House unanimously. In recognition of the broad support of this effort, Georgia’s Medicaid agency has committed to the bill sponsor to implement the intent of the legislation.


HB 217: Needle exchange | PASSED

HB 217, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, decriminalizes the act of working or volunteering for a syringe services program, a step towards legalizing the programs. Distributing clean hypodermic syringes and needles to people who use injection drugs (e.g. heroin) helps to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and does not increase the likelihood that people will newly take up injections drug use.


HB 290: PrEP pilot program | PASSED

HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would establish a pilot program to provide preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug assistance or services to persons at risk of being infected with HIV. PrEP is a medication taken by people who are HIV-negative to reduce their risk for infection. The pilot program would provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use and participants would receive regular HIV testing and related support services.


HB 83: Recess legislation | PASSED

HB 83, sponsored by Representative Demetrius Douglas, would require a daily 30-minute recess for all students in grades K-5 unless they have already had a physical education class or structured activity time in the day. This bill now sits in the Senate Rules committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. To learn more about the impact of recess on children’s physical and mental health, read this fact sheet from Voices for Georgia’s Children.


HB 321: Medicaid financing program | PASSED

HB 321, sponsored by Rep. Jodi Lott, would extend the sunset provision of the hospital provider fee for five years. The hospital payment program, which draws down additional federal funding, provides almost $1 billion annually to the state’s Medicaid budget. More information about HB 321 is available here.


HB 514: Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission | PASSED

HB 514, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, would create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission which would work to analyze and offer improvements to the state’s mental health system and run through at least June 30, 2020. Within the Commission, several subcommittees would be established to include Children and Adolescent Mental Health; Involuntary Commitment; Hospital and Short-Term Care Facilities; Mental Health Courts and Corrections; and Workforce and System Development.


SB 16: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act | PASSED

SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, would allow Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also provides Georgia’s Medical Board with easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers from other states, an important protective measure for Georgia patients.


HB 233: Pharmacy Anti-Steering and Transparency Act | PASSED

HB 233, sponsored by Rep. David Knight, would prohibit pharmacies from sharing patient data for commercial purposes and prohibit pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from steering patients to PBM-owned pharmacies. It also requires such pharmacies to file an annual disclosure statement of its affiliates. Pharmacy benefit managers are companies that manage the prescription drug benefit of your health plan.


SB 195: Prescription Drug Benefits Freedom of Information and Consumer Protection Act | DID NOT PASS

SB 195, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, this bill would make it easier for consumers to know what prescription medications are covered by their health insurance plan and better understand the likely costs by requiring health insurers to conspicuously post on their website information about their drug formulary in a current and searchable format. A drug formulary is the list of prescription medicines that your health insurer agrees to pay for or partially pay for. SB 195 would also standardize and speed up the process for consumers and providers to request prior authorization for necessary prescription drugs.


HB 186: Certificate of Need Reform | PASSED

HB 186, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, will create a new category for general cancer hospitals as part of an agreement with Cancer Treatment Centers of America that would allow more Georgia patients to be seen. This bill will also limit who can object to a provider’s Certificate of Need application for expanding hospital services. The change would limit objections to only come from health care facilities that provide similar services and are located within a thirty-five mile radius.


HB 197: Establishment of Strategic Integrated Data System | PASSED

HB 197, sponsored by Rep. Katie Dempsey, will establish the Strategic Integrated Data System through the Office of Planning and Budget. The data system would capture de-identified information about the physical and mental health and social services beign provided to Georgians across the state. The goal of the system is to provide a central source of date about state services that can be used by state agencies, lawmakers, and researchers to make programs more effective and cost-efficient.


HB 323: Regulation and licensure of pharmacy benefits managers | PASSED

HB 323, sponsored by Rep. David Knight, will provide a good first step in drug transparency from pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs.) PBMs will have to report how much they receive in rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers to the Department of Insurance and how much of those savings are being passed on to customers, although the information are not required to be reported to the legislature or the public.


GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

GHF has been monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: Patients First Act, healthy housing, HIV treatment and prevention bills move forward

Legislative Update: Week 10
Risky health care waiver bill passed by House committee

Last Wednesday, the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care held a hearing on SB 106, the Patients First Act. GHF’s Executive Director, Laura Colbert and several Cover Georgia coalition members testified and emphasized the need for changes in the bill. Read Laura’s full testimony here.

As we have previously reported, the legislation allows for an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage to some adults making up to 100% of the federal poverty level ($12,100 annually for an individual). GHF and its partners requested that the income cap be lifted to 138% FPL so that it would cover more Georgians at a lower cost to the state. As currently written, the bill would leave out thousands of Georgians who earn just above the poverty line and who would be covered under a traditional Medicaid expansion or a broader 1115 waiver. SB 106 also allows the state to make potentially dramatic changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. The bill now sits in the House Rules committee and is expected to receive a vote on the House floor sometime next week.

There is still time for the House to make changes to SB 106 so that it covers more people and costs less. Read more about SB 106 CoverGA.org and then contact your state representative to let them know that we need to amend this bill to cover every eligible Georgian!


 

Behavioral health commission passes in both chambers
Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission passed by Senate

The Senate passed an amended version of HB 514 on Thursday. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, would create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission which would work to analyze and offer improvements to the state’s mental health system. Changes to the bill in the Senate included additions to the make-up of the Commission so that it includes a professional who specializes in substance abuse and addiction, and a representative of a community service board to serve as a nonvoting member of the 23-member panel. The bill will now return to the House to receive an “Agree” on the changes made in the Senate and will then go to the Governor’s desk to be signed.


HIV prevention & treatment bills move forward in the Senate
Two HIV-related bills move forward in Senate committee

Two significant pieces of HIV-related legislation passed the Senate Health and Human Services committee last week. HB 217, which would decriminalize the act of working or volunteering for a syringe services program and HB 290, which would would establish a pilot program to provide preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug assistance or services to persons at risk of being infected with HIV will now go to the Senate Rules Committee to await a vote by the full Senate. A third bill, HB 158 would improve Medicaid coverage but has not yet been taken up by the Senate HHS committee. Georgia currently leads the U.S. in the rate of new HIV cases diagnosed each year and all three bills would contribute to the slowing of the epidemic by preventing new infections and improving care for people currently living with the condition. (For more details on all three pieces of legislation, see our February 26th legislative update).


What happened last week
Recess legislation passes in Senate committee

The Senate Education and Youth committee voted to pass HB 83 last Thursday. This bill would require a daily 30-minute recess for all students in grades K-5 unless they have already had a physical education class or structured activity time in the day. This bill now sits in the Senate Rules committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. To learn more about the impact of recess on children’s physical and mental health, read this fact sheet from Voices for Georgia’s Children.


Healthy housing legislation makes progress in Senate

Georgians for a Healthy Future is a member of the Healthy Housing Georgia coalition because evidence shows the strong and direct influence housing has on a person’s health. The coalition supports HB 346 which passed with amendments by the Senate Judiciary committee last week. This bill would prohibit retaliation by a landlord against a tenant for complaining to Code Enforcement about unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions like the presence of mold, radon, rodents, insect infestations, or lead. Georgia is the only state in the country that does not protect tenants against unsafe and uninhabitable housing conditions with a “warranty of habitability.” The Senate Rules committee will now decide when the legislation may receive a vote on the Senate floor. (For more details on the legislation, see our March 5th legislative update.)


GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

GHF will be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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GHF testifies on Patients First Act (SB 106)

GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided testimony to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care on SB 106 and the risks this legislation poses for consumers as it is currently written.

Testimony of Laura Colbert, GHF’s Executive Director
March 20, 2019

“Thank you Chairman Smith and members of the committee.  My name is Laura Colbert and I am the ED of GHF. We represent health care consumers across Georgia and work to build a future in which all Georgians have the quality, affordable health coverage and care they need to live healthy lives and contribute to the health of their communities.

First, we want to thank Governor Kemp, Senator Tillery and Representative Lott for your work on this bill. We are excited that this very important conversation is moving forward. We appreciate your open door and on-going dialogue with us on this issue.

Like my colleagues before me, GHF agrees with the goals of this bill and we are pleased by the prospect of meaningful coverage for 240,000 Georgians who live below the poverty line. We are to balance that with our consternation that 200,000 uninsured Georgians who make just more than the poverty line may remain uncovered by this bill as it’s written.

Georgians with insurance coverage are healthier, better able to work and go to school, have less medical debt and better credit scores, and have healthier families, among other benefits. While Georgians below the poverty line are sure to reap these benefits after gaining coverage, those just above it likely will not if SB 106 is not amended to specifically include them.

Based on other states’ coverage expansions and the affordability information provided to you by Ms. Haynes at Georgia Watch, it is clear that many near-poor constituents are likely to face significant cost-related barriers to health care, even with the ACA’s financial assistance. While Georgians in this income range can afford more than those below the poverty line, it is unrealistic to expect them to pay as much as 20% of a person’s $14,000 yearly wage or a family of four’s $30,000 salary for health care. An investment that large for families barely making ends meet effectively keeps them locked out of the health care system, only experiencing the benefits of coverage in emergency situations. The financial protection and access to care provided by Medicaid can better serve as the stepping stones for these families to climb into Georgia’s middle class.

Georgia is at the table now, and we have the opportunity to get this right for all Georgians on the first try.

That is why we recommend that this committee amend the bill to expand eligibility to 133% FPL and cover more Georgians for fewer state dollars. Georgia is at the table now, and we have the opportunity to get this right for all Georgians on the first try. Or consider removing the percentage provision altogether so that the bill is silent on the exact income limit, providing flexibility to the state to negotiate the waiver specifics that work best for Georgians and Georgia’s budget, particularly in the likely event that CMS is unable to provide an enhanced match rate for a partial expansion.

I also want to briefly turn to the second part of the bill concerning Section 1332 State Innovation waivers. A 1332 waiver to establish a reinsurance program would help thousands of Georgians by reducing insurance premiums and attracting more insurers to the marketplace. GHF stands in support of such efforts. However, the legislation as currently written is so broad that it leaves the door open to many more changes, some of which could destabilize Georgia’s marketplace and jeopardize access to care for Georgians covered by individual or small-group health insurance.

We recommend that this committee consider narrowing the scope of an allowable 1332 waiver by specifying that the state is authorized to establish a reinsurance program or, if other proposals may be considered, lay out criteria that any innovation waiver must meet. Georgians for a Healthy Future has laid out four criteria that we believe are critical to ensuring that any 1332 waiver benefits consumers without putting vulnerable groups at risk.

We appreciate your consideration of our suggestions and hope that we can act as a resource for the state as it drafts these waivers. Thank you very much for your time and your efforts on behalf of all of the health care consumers in your districts.”


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Legislative Update: Crossover edition

Legislative Update: Week 8
Crossover Day brings legislative action late into the night

Last Thursday was the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, which is also referred to as Crossover Day. Crossover Day is the final day for a bill to cross from its chamber of origin to the opposite chamber to remain viable for this legislative session. This week’s legislative update provides a rundown of consumer health legislation: which bills made it through and which did not. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here. (Note: After a flurry of activity last week, we are still working to update our legislative tracker with the current status of each bill. So while many of the bills are updated, it is best to find the bill you are interested in and click through to find the full information on the bill’s statis on legis.ga.gov.


Our priorities

Surprise billing legislation moves forward

SB 56, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, received approval by the full Senate on Wednesday and may be considered by the House Insurance Committee in the coming weeks. The legislation aims to improve transparency for consumers who may be subject to a surprise out-of-network bill. This bill would disallow surprise billing in emergency situations but does not prohibit surprise billing in non-emergency situations like when a physician uses an out-of-network laboratory for diagnostic tests. This bill now sits in the House Insurance committee. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 11th legislative update.)


Legislation to fully expand coverage stalls; Patients First Act advances

HB 37, the Expand Medicaid Now Act, and SB 36 sponsored by Representative Bob Trammell and Senator Steve Henson respectively, did not receive hearings and did not cross over last week. Each bill was written to expand Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile SB 106, the Patients First Act, has moved quickly through the Senate in the weeks before Crossover Day. The legislation, as written, would allow the Department of Community Health to request an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage to adults making up to 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($12,490 annually for an individual). This “partial expansion” would leave out thousands of new-poor Georgians who are meant to be similarly covered according to federal health law and will likely cost the state more to cover fewer people. Additionally, the bill allows the Governor to make potentially tremendous changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. The bill will now awaits a hearing from the House’s Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.


Healthy housing legislation moves to Senate committee

Georgians for a Healthy Future is a member of the Healthy Housing Georgia coalition because evidence shows the strong and firect influence housing has on a person’s health. The coalition supports HB 346, which would prohibit retaliation by a landlord against a tenant for complaining to Code Enforcement about unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions like the presence of mold, radon, rodents, insect infestations, or lead. Georgia is the only state in the country that does not protect tenants against unsafe and uninhabitable housing conditions with a “warranty of habitability.” This bill now sits in the Senate Judiciary committee. (For more details on the legislation, see our March 5th legislative update.)

 


Crossover day recap

HB 30: Amended FY 2019 Budget | CROSSED OVER

HB 30 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2019. The “little budget” has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and been signed by the Governor. The amended budget went into effect on Saturday, March 9th.


HB 31: FY 2020 Budget | CROSSED OVER

HB 31 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. The budget includes several new investments in behavioral health and mostly maintains funding for other health care programs and priorities. The Senate will continue to hold hearings on the “big budget” this week. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY 2020 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


HB 37: Expand Medicaid Now Act | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 37, sponsored by Rep. Bob Trammell, expands Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act by increasing Medicaid eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty guidelines (FPL). This is equivalent to $17,236 annually for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.


HB 63: Step therapy legislation: CROSSED OVER

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would require health insurance plans to establish step therapy protocols and outline a process for health care providers to request exceptions. Step therapy is a requirement by some insurers that patients try a series of lower-cost treatments before the insurer will cover the higher-cost treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician.


HB 84: Provider network transparency | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 84, sponsored by Rep. Richard Smith, increases transparency related to possible surprise medical bills. The legislation requires that information on billing and the providers that a consumer may encounter during a course of care must be provided to the consumer at their request. In circumstances where a consumer receives a surprise bill, HB 84 also allows for arbitration between the consumer and the health care provider, the specifics of which would be determined by Georgia’s Department of Insurance.


HB 158: Improve Medicaid patient access to effective HIV treatment | CROSSED OVER

HB 158, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, requires that Medicaid recipients have the same access to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS as to those included in the formulary established for the Georgia AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This change would allow for increased continuity of care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia.


HB 198: Eliminate certificate of need requirements | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 198, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hatchett, would change the certificate of need process that is used to regulate health care facilities. The bill also included requirements for increasing transparency of hospital financial information and an increase in the rural hospital tax credit from $60 million to $100 million.


HB 217: Needle exchange program | CROSSED OVER

HB 217, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, decriminalizes the act of working or volunteering for a syringe services program, a step towards legalizing the programs. Distributing clean hypodermic syringes and needles to people who use injection drugs (e.g. heroin) helps to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and does not increase the likelihood that people will newly take up injections drug use.


HB 290: PrEP pilot program | CROSSED OVER

HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would establish a pilot program to provide preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug assistance or services to persons at risk of being infected with HIV. PrEP is a medication taken by people who are HIV-negative to reduce their risk for infection. The pilot program would provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use and participants would receive regular HIV testing and related support services.


HB 321: Medicaid financing program | CROSSED OVER

HB 321, sponsored by Rep. Jodi Lott, would extend the sunset provision of the hospital provider fee for five years. The hospital payment program, which draws down additional federal funding, provides almost $1 billion annually to the state’s Medicaid budget. More information about HB 321 is available here.


HB 514: Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission | CROSSED OVER

HB 514, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, would create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission through at least June 30, 2020. Within the Commission, several subcommittees would be established to include Children and Adolescent Mental Health; Involuntary Commitment; Hospital and Short-Term Care Facilities; Mental Health Courts and Corrections; and Workforce and System Development.


SB 16: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act | CROSSED OVER

SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, would allow Georgia to enter the “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act” which allows health care providers to more easily obtain licenses to practice in multiple states. It also provides Georgia’s Medical Board with easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers from other states, an important protective measure for Georgia patients.


SB 74: Eliminate certificate of need requirements | DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 74, sponsored by Senator Matt Brass, would eliminate certificate of need requirements for all health care facilities except certain long-term care facilities and services. This bill is the Senate companion piece to HB 198. Both bills aim to change the current certificate of need structure which regulates hospitals in Georgia.


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GHF will be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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Legislative Update: Patients First Act, the little budget, and HIV legislation

Legislative Update: Week 6
Patients First Act moves quickly through Senate committee

Last week, the Senate Health and Human Services (HHS) committee met to discuss and hear testimony on SB 106. Titled the Patients First Act, the legislation permits Georgia’s Governor to pursue two health care waivers that could make significant changes to health coverage for Georgia consumers. The bill passed out of committee with no changes and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a vote to move to the Senate floor.

The legislation, as written, would allow the Department of Community Health to request an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage up to 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL). This would leave out thousands who would be covered under a full Medicaid expansion and will likely cost the state more to cover fewer people. Additionally, the bill allows the Governor to make potentially tremendous changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. This proposed legislation falls short of the promise to put a health insurance card in the pockets of all Georgians.

There is still time to ensure that this bill covers all Georgians in need of an insurance card in a fiscally responsible way. Join us this Thursday, February 28th, for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol to talk with your elected officials about this important piece of legislation

(Can’t make it? Call or send an email to your state legislators today!)


General Assembly moves forward on budget bills
Budget progresses through General Assembly
The House and Senate are inches away from completing work on HB 30, the FY2019 supplementary budget which only needs a House “agree” to move to the Governor’s desk. The supplemental budget (also called the “little budget”) makes necessary, mid-year adjustments to the current state budget. The Governor’s proposed amended FY2019 budget provides $1 million for the Department of Community Health to hire an external consultant to draft the waiver options authorized in SB 106, if passed. The House Appropriations Committee has begun working on the FY 2020 budget, (also called the “big budget”). The FY2020 budget contains significant additions for health, including $8.4 million to fund a school-based mental health initiative called Project Apex, which aims to increase access to mental health services for children and youth.

Legislature prioritizes HIV prevention & treatment
Bills to increase prevention & treatment of HIV move forward in the House

Georgia now leads the U.S. in the number of new HIV cases diagnosed each year. State legislators have turned their attention to this problem with the introduction and passage of several bills aimed at preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS and increased access to treatment for those living with the disease:

  • HB 158, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, requires that Medicaid recipients have the same access to antiretroviral regimens used to treat HIV and AIDS as to those included in the formulary established for the Georgia AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This change would allow for increased continuity of care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia. The bill has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate HHS committee.
  • HB 217, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, decriminalizes the act of working or volunteering for a syringe services program, a step towards legalizing the programs. Distributing clean hypodermic syringes and needles to people who use injection drugs (e.g. heroin) helps to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and does not increase the likelihood that people will newly take up injections drug use. This bill was passed by the House yesterday and now moves to the Senate.
  • HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would establish a pilot program to provide preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug assistance or services to persons at risk of being infected with HIV. PrEP is a medication taken by people who are HIV-negative to reduce their risk for infection. The pilot program would provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use and participants would receive regular HIV testing and related support services. The House HHS committee passed HB 290 last week and now awaits a full vote by the House.

Surprise billing legislation advances
Surprise billing legislation approved by Senate committee

SB 56, sponsored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler, was approved by the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee last week. The legislation addresses surprise out-of-network billing and aims to improve transparency. A surprise medical bill can occur when a consumer unknowingly encounters an out-of-network (OON) provider at an in-network facility and can have serious financial impacts on individuals and families. This bill would disallow surprise billing in emergency situations but does not prohibit surprise billing in non-emergency situations like when a physician uses an out-of-network laboratory for diagnostic tests. (For more details on the legislation, see our February 11th legislative update.) The bill was approved and now sits the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a vote.


GHF has you covered
Stay up-to-date with the legislative session

GHF will be monitoring legislative activity on a number of critical consumer health care topics. Along with our weekly legislative updates and timely analysis of bills, we have the tools you need to stay in touch with health policy under the Gold Dome.


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