Laura Colbert of consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future said Monday that even a 6.5 percent increase could prove difficult to afford for families who don’t qualify for…
Tag: health care
This year, no Georgian has been left untouched by the health or economic impacts of COVID-19. America’s singular failure to control the pandemic has spotlighted the importance of public policy decisions that prioritize the health and wellness of populations, the consequences of underfunding essential public infrastructure (like departments of public health), and the disparate impact that public policies have had on Black Americans and other people of color. National, state, and local leaders, many elected by the public, are responsible for the policy decisions made ahead of and in response to COVID-19, its economic fallout, and the movement for racial justice.
Ahead of the 2020 election season (October to November 3, 2020), Georgians have the opportunity to learn more about these elected positions, the decision-making power each has, and how those positions impact their health and the well-being of Georgians. This year, Georgians will cast their votes for the U.S. President, members of U.S. Congress, state legislators, state supreme court judges, and other positions. Voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have an unprecedented impact on consumers health issues in Georgia as we continue to battle through the current health crisis.
In this blog, we cover the U.S. Congress’s impact on the health and well-being of Georgians and their families. To jump to a specific section, click these links:
- About Congress
- The U.S. budget—including what gets passed along to states like Georgia
- Congress passes laws that impact Georgia
- Senate’s power to approve public appointments has direct consequences for Georgia
- This year’s election
The U.S. Congress is made up of 535 members each of whom serve in the Senate or the House of Representatives (“House”). The U.S. Senate is made up of two Senators from each state. Both Senators represent their entire state and serve staggered six-year terms. Each member of the House represents a specific region of their state (called a Congressional District). There are 435 U.S. House members under current law, and 14 of them represent congressional districts in Georgia. U.S. Representatives serve two-year terms. (Remember that U.S. Senators and Representatives are different from Georgia’s state senators and representatives. All of these positions are all on the ballot this November.)
Congress is in charge of the country’s budget—including what gets passed along to states like Georgia
The U.S. Constitution puts Congress in charge of raising revenue (most commonly through taxes), borrowing money, and approving spending.
In January or February of each year, the U.S. President proposes a budget, but it is largely ignored by leaders in Congress. Instead, Congressional leaders in the House and the Senate set overall spending levels in a document called a budget resolution. The House and Senate appropriations committees then divide the broad spending plan between 12 subcommittees who will determine the details of the country’s spending for that budget year. As these subcommittees consider the budget, they hear from leaders of government agencies, lobbyists for various interest groups, advocates like GHF, and from members of the public about how the country should spend its budget for the next year.
When the subcommittees finish their work, all Senators and Representatives vote on their chamber’s respective version of the budget. Once approved by both chambers, the differences are worked out in a conference committee, before sending the budget to the President to be approved or vetoed.
How the U.S. budget impacts Georgia
Congress’s budget contains mandatory funding for social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food assistance. These social programs keep Georgians insured, fed with healthy foods, and, hopefully, financially stable.
The budget also includes “discretionary” spending which goes to federal agencies like Departments of Health & Human Services or Housing & Urban Development, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In many cases, these agencies grant dollars to states like Georgia for specific projects (ex: substance use prevention) or for on-going operations of public agencies like public health departments.
Congress passes laws that impact Georgia
Senators and Representatives may propose laws to address issues of concern for their constituents. These issues can range from surprise out-of-network medical billing to the opioid crisis to maternal mortality to rural broadband access for health care providers. Many members of Congress (MoC) receive ideas for legislation from concerns and complaints brought to them by their constituents (an important reason to get to know your members of Congress).
Each year, hundreds of bills are proposed and only a fraction successfully pass both chambers. Health-related bills typically pass through the House’s Committee on Energy & Commerce, Subcommittee on Health (among others) and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. Legislators can consider bills for the two-year term of a Congress (ex: 2021-2022). When approved by both the Senate and House, successful legislation goes to the President for approval or veto.
Federal laws impact Georgians
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has considered and passed a number of new funding bills and federal laws. Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020, which provided stimulus checks to many Georgians and their families; extended unemployment benefits to Georgians and other Americans out of work; required that health insurers cover COVID-19 testing and treatment; established programs to open access to testing for uninsured Georgians and other Americans; and placed a temporary moratorium on housing evictions for some Americans.
On other issues, Congress has failed to act on issues of importance to Georgians. While Georgia adopted consumer protections from surprise billing for 2.5 million Georgians, Congress has not been able to agree on legislation to solve the issue for Georgians with job-based health insurance. Among other stalled health issues, Congress has not acted to improve health care costs in a significant way since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
Senators approve important public appointments
Senators have the additional power to approve certain important public appointments such as the Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices regularly make decisions that shape the health and well-being of Georgians.
The federal agencies run by appointed Secretaries and other officials implement or enforce federal laws that directly impact Georgians. For example, HHS oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and directs the Medicaid & Medicare programs. The agency has made decisions that have real day-to-day impacts on Georgia consumers, like the decisions to cut funding for unbiased, local health insurance enrollment assistance in Georgia by 85% or to reverse a rule that allows doctors and other health care providers to discriminate against LGBT Georgians and other diverse Georgians. In the coming months, the agency will approve or reject of Georgia’s flawed plans to only partially expand Medicaid and separate from the ACA’s health insurance marketplace.
The justices appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Senate regularly weigh in on federal laws that shape health and health care for Georgians. The Court will hear arguments on the Health Care Repeal lawsuit this fall, and their decision on the case will determine if protections for people with pre-existing conditions under the ACA (and all other parts of the ACA) can continue or are erased.
This year’s election
Georgia has several highly competitive U.S. House and Senate races on the November 2020 ballot. Whether and how Georgia can address issues like COVID-19, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system will depend on the actions of those elected to these positions by voters this November. Check your ballot to see who is running for these positions and find out how they plan to act on the health issues that are important to you.
This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2020 election on timely consumer health issues. Please be on the lookout for more blogs in this series, including our recent blog on the Georgia General Assembly.
*Georgians for a Healthy Future is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization. We do not endorse or support any candidates or political party.
Like many of you, our team is monitoring the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak closely. We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well during these uncertain times.
We are grateful for the actions of Georgia leaders to protect the health and safety of individuals and communities across the state. We encourage all of you to help prevent the spread of the virus by staying home, avoiding group gatherings, washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and following the guidance of public health experts.
Unfortunately, this outbreak has exposed the many shortcomings of our nation’s health care system while reinforcing how important it is for all Georgians and people across the country to have access to health coverage and care. While our policymakers and health system leaders are acting quickly to expand Georgians’ pathways to testing, treatment, and care, many Georgians currently lack health care coverage or are at risk of losing it as a result of the virus. Georgia’s elected leaders should act immediately to close Georgia’s coverage gap and extend Medicaid coverage to all low-income Georgians. Closing the Medicaid coverage gap supports good health by ensuring that people confronting COVID-19 do not go untracked and untreated. This is one of several critical steps Georgia leaders should take to promote the health and economic security of all Georgians during this unprecedented health crisis.
We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and encourage state leadership to take effective action to provide access to health care for all Georgians. Thank you for your continued support.
Legislative update: Week 3
Georgia House continues budget considerations
Last week the Georgia House of Representatives resumed its budget hearings in earnest. The House Appropriations subcommittee on Health met on Tuesday to hear more from state agency leaders about their amended FY2020 budget requests. The FY2020 budget runs through June 30, 2020, and is sometimes called the “little budget”.
It was clear during last week’s hearings that the House may not simply agree to the budget cuts requested by Governor Kemp. Many Appropriations committee members expressed concerns about how the agencies’ proposed cuts would impact access to health care in rural Georgia, the availability of mental health and substance use services, and other critical health services and supports.
Both chambers will reconvene today, February 3rd, for the tenth day of the legislative session. Before scrolling to the latest news on emerging bills and other happenings under the Gold Dome, don’t forget to tell officials what you think of Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan. The comment deadline is this Friday.
Less than a week to go!
The comment period ends on Friday! Take action now!
Before the legislative session began, Governor Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with their plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. Now those health officials need your input, beginning with the Medicaid plan!
Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan will leave thousands of low-income Georgians with no meaningful way to get health insurance. Instead of expanding Medicaid to cover 490,000 Georgians, this plan would cover only 50,000 people and cost three times more per person.
We need you to step up AGAIN and become a health care hero by telling national officials what you think of the Medicaid plan! The deadline for comment is Friday, February 7th. Visit coverGA.org to comment today!
Did you submit a comment in November? Please submit a comment again so federal officials can hear directly from you.
Senate starts with prescription drugs & price transparency
SB 313: Updating how Georgia regulates pharmacy benefit managers
Senator Dean Burke has introduced SB 313, a law that would update Georgia’s oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and add important consumer protections. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, and are a new favorite focus of policy makers who want to address rising health care costs.
SB 313 requires PBMs to charge health insurers the same price for a drug as it receives from the drug manufacturer and that PBMs pass all rebates from the manufacturer to the health plan. (Ideally, these savings are then passed along to consumers.) The bill also disallows PBMS from building drug formularies (lists of covered medicines) in a way that discriminates against people with prescription drug needs. The bill also strengthens the Insurance Commissioner’s ability to hold PBMs accountable to state laws and regulations.
This bill is complex and GHF will continue to report on it through the legislative session. The bill has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee.
SB 303: Georgia Right to Shop Act
SB 303 would require that health insurers to put on their website an interactive feature that allows consumers to estimate their out of pocket costs for a particular health care service and compare quality metrics between providers, among other things. Insurers would also have to provide a phone number that consumers can call to get the same information. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Ben Watson, Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services committee. It has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee and is expected to be heard this week.
Focus on nicotine & tobacco continues
Legislation would tax vaping products
Representative Bonnie Rich introduced HB 864 last week, which would add a 7% excise tax to vaping products and would require businesses that sell vaping products to register with the state for a $250 fee. This bill is one of at least three pieces of legislation that would change how Georgia taxes and regulates tobacco or other nicotine products. HB 731, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, would raise Georgia’s tobacco tax to $1.87 from its current level of $0.37. SB 298, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, would increase the age that Georgians are allowed to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, among other things.
Both House Bills have been referred to the House Ways & Means committee and SB 298 has been referred to the Senate Regulated Industries committee.
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.
In 2019 Georgia’s health advocacy community lost several colleagues and friends. As we mourn those who passed, we strive to honor their lives by continuing to build the healthy, equitable future they each envisioned.
This year’s Linda Smith Lowe Health Advocacy Award will honor the work of one such Georgian. Dawn Alford is this year’s award recipient for her advocacy on behalf of Georgians with disabilities.
Dawn Alford was the Public Policy Director for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities from 2013 until her unexpected passing in July 2019. In this role, Dawn led advocacy efforts to improve and protect access to quality health care, increase opportunities for accessible education, and to expand opportunities for people with disabilities to live full lives in their communities.
Dawn brought her own life experience to her work. As she educated legislators on important policy issues, she told stories about her health care, education, and family supports to illustrate the need and impact of policy change. She regularly led efforts to bring Georgians with disabilities to the state Capitol to do the same. Dawn’s ability to create change by leveraging the power of her own and others’ voices illustrates why GHF has chosen to recognize her as this year’s awardee.
Dawn’s former colleague and friend Eric Jacobson submitted her award nomination and reflected on Dawn’s legacy:
“It now only makes sense that we promote young people with disabilities to take her role and build upon it. While only 41 when she passed, she had begun developing a network of young people with disabilities who saw her as a mentor, coach and friend. She prepared them not only to become better advocates but to take leadership roles in the Disability Rights Movement.
She was an extraordinary advocate for people with disabilities who fought so that all Georgians with disabilities could live full and meaningful lives in the community.”
For her advocacy work on behalf of Georgians with disabilities, we are proud to honor Dawn Alford with the Linda Smith Lowe Health Advocacy Award.
We hope you will join us on January 14th as we recognize Dawn! RSVP here.
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.
How much of the state budget went to health, and where was that money allocated?
Which health care-related bills passed, and what do they mean for my family and my community?
For the bills that didn’t pass, are they dead?
What study committees should I be paying attention to throughout the summer and fall?
For a complete understanding of what happened this legislative session, don’t miss our webinar. Lobbyist Andy Lord and Community Outreach Manager Laura Colbert will walk you through what you need to know and answer any questions you may have.
Don’t worry – you can still sign up!
Date:Thursday, April 9
Time:12:00 – 1:00 EDT