Your health coverage, health care, and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: June 30, 2020

The Georgians for a Healthy Future team is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak closely. As always, GHF strives to be a resource for Georgia consumers. While things continue to change quickly during this health care pandemic, we will share practical advice and actionable information to help you navigate a confusing time and find the answers you need. Here we present information about how to access health care services and what to expect from your health insurance coverage when you do. We will keep the corresponding blog post updated as things change and with links to helpful resources as they become available.


Georgia’s statewide shelter in place ended on April 30, 2020 for most Georgians. Vulnerable populations including those who are medically fragile and elderly should continue to shelter in place until June 12, 2020.

Governor Kemp also extended Georgia’s public health state of emergency through July 12, 2020. He also issued executive orders requiring businesses to operate by strict social distancing and sanitation rules through May 13, 2020. As of June 1, 2020 restaurants are still required to abide by 39 restrictions to open their dining rooms.

We encourage all of you to continue to help prevent the spread of the virus by taking the necessary steps to “flatten the curve” including staying home, avoiding group gatherings, washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and following the guidance of public health experts.


If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or may need a test

If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, call your primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic. Let them know you think you may have COVID-19, so they can take the proper precautions and direct you to available testing sites. You may also call the Georgia Department of Public Health on their COVID-19 hotline at 844-442-2681. Public health officials are urging people not show up unannounced at a doctor’s office, emergency room or other health care facility.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a Coronavirus Self-Checker which may be a helpful tool if you think you are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

You can find out more about COVID-19, its symptoms, what to do if you think you are sick, and other COVID-19 information at dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus.

COVID-19 testing is available for all Georgians, regardless of whether you have coronavirus symptoms. Anyone can call their local health department to get scheduled for testing. They can also download the Augusta University ExpressCare app, visit augustahealth.org, or call (706) 721-1852.

Effective May 7, 2020, COVID-19 testing is available to all Georgians who request it, whether they have symptoms or not. Call your local health department to schedule an appointment at a location near you and to inquire if testing is free.


What to expect from your health insurance

If you have insurance, make sure to use it for any testing and medical exams related to COVID-19 and any other medical services you may need during this time.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused many Georgians to lose their jobs and also lose their employer-sponsored health care coverage. If you have lost your coverage or have had a drop in your income, you may be eligible for Medicaid or financial assistance to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Please read the If You Lose Your Job section below.

If you have Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids

If you and your family have lost your source of income in this crisis, or are in lower-income work with no health coverage, enrolling in Medicaid may be an option for you.

Medicaid provides all “medically-necessary” services to its members. During the national public health emergency period, your Medicaid coverage will cover the cost of a COVID-19 test.  If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and need medical treatment, Medicaid should also cover those costs. 

Check with your Medicaid insurance company for more information and guidance. Click the name of your Medicaid company to find out more: AmerigroupCareSourcePeachState Health Plan, and WellCare.

If you need other health care services during this time, check with your Medicaid insurance company and doctor to see if you can have a “virtual appointment” using the internet, video call, or telephone call, instead of going in-person.

Georgia’s Department of Community Health (DCH) has announced that Medicaid & PeachCare members will not owe any co-payments for any health service from May 1, 2020 until the end of the national public health emergency.

No one can willingly lose their Medicaid coverage during the public health emergency. If you lose your Medicaid coverage during this time, contact your Medicaid insurance company.

If you have private insurance

If you have insurance through your job, the State Health Benefit Plan, or the Affordable Care Act marketplace (also called healthcare.gov), use it for any testing or medical exams related to COVID-19. The Families First Act requires that health plans and insurers cover testing for COVID-19 so your test should be free. If someone wants to charge you for a test, call the DPH’s COVID-19 hotline.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and require medical treatment, you should expect to pay some out-of-pocket costs like your deductible.

As of March 21, 2020 Cigna, Humana, Aetna, and UnitedHealthcare have waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment. Aetna and Cigna have pledged to waive COVID-19 treatment costs for qualified medical bills until June 1, 2020. Humana has not announced an end date to their COVID-19 cost-sharing policy.

If you purchased coverage outside of the ACA marketplace or you have a short-term plan or health-sharing ministry, call your insurance company to find out how they are covering COVID-19 testing and treatment. The cost-sharing requirement under the Families First Act does not apply to people who are enrolled in non-ACA compliant plans (ex: short-term plans).

If you need other health care services during this time, check with your insurance company and doctor to see if you can have a “virtual appointment” using the internet, a video call, or a telephone call instead of going in-person.

In order to ensure people affected by COVID-19 have access to health care Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner issued a directive on March 20, 2020, that instructed health insurers to refrain from canceling health policies due to non-payment. That directive expires on May 31st. If you are behind on your premium payments or expect to be, call your insurance company right away to see if they can offer a payment plan, financial assistance, or other help to keep you enrolled.

If you have Medicare

Medicare covers the lab tests for COVID-19. You pay no out-of-pocket costs. All necessary hospitalizations are also covered by Medicare, including hospitalizations for quarantine. More information about Medicare’s coverage and services is available here.

If you are uninsured
If you need a COVID-19 test, contact your local public health department to find a testing site and to ask whether the test will be free. Request that they waive any testing costs.

If you need other health care services during this time, find a local community clinic, or apply for financial assistance through a hospital charity care program. Georgians should not let their insurance status get in the way of getting needed testing or treatment.

If you lose your job

Many Georgians across the economy have lost their jobs and may be at risk of losing their coverage. If this is your situation, you can keep yourself and your family covered during this health crisis. You may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period up to 60 days after losing your job-based health insurance. When you begin the enrollment process, healthcare.gov will ask you about your estimated income for 2020 and will let you know if you qualify for financial help to lower your premiums and other cost-sharing. 

For free help with the enrollment process, contact these organizations:

Coverage through the ACA marketplace (healthcare.gov) covers testing for COVID-19. It will also cover part or all of the costs related to COVID-19 treatment. Call your insurance company for more information.

If you are unable to enroll in a health insurance plan, you may have other options through services such as a community clinic, which can connect you with the care you need.


Resources for you and your loved ones

During this uncertain time, many of our partner organizations are doing the hard work of finding and centralizing the information that you and your loved ones may need. Here are a few that we think are most helpful. We will continue to update this list with actionable resources and information so you can stay healthy, safe, and well. 

  • COVID-19 guidance and information
    • Information from public health experts: Visit the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website for the latest guidance and updates about COVID-19 in Georgia.
    • Coronavirus resources for people who are not strong readers: Georgia State University has published a library coronavirus materials for people who may not have strong reading or literacy skills. They have included materials up to a 9th-grade reading level.
  • COVID-19 guidance and information for people who do not speak English as a first language
    • The GSU School of Public Health’s Prevention Research Center has compiled COVID-19 information sheets (from CDC & the International Rescue Committee) in 25 languages
  • Make sure your basic needs and finances are taken care of:
    • If you need help finding food:
    • Food Bank of Northeast Georgia: Visit www.foodbanknega.org, click “Need Help”. Call the office at (706) 354 8191
    • Atlanta Community Food Bank: Text the word FINDFOOD to 888-976-2232 with your ZIP code and street address and you will be sent a list of the three closest distribution centers.
      Text service also available in Spanish, using the word COMIDA
    • Georgia Mountain Food Bank: uses the same system as Atlanta Community Food Bank
    • Golden Harvest Food Bank Visit www.goldenharvest.org, click on ‘Find Help’ at the top of the page, you will be taken to a map where you can enter your zip code to find the nearest food distributor
    • Middle Georgia Community Food Bank–Call 211 and you will be connected with an associate who will be able to tell you where you can find food
    • Feeding the Valley Food Bank: Visit feedingthevalley.org, on the front page, enter your zip code into the ‘Need Food’ box and you will be shown the closest food pantries to your location
    • America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia: Visit helpendhunger.org, select ‘Find Food’ on the homepage, you will be taken to a map where you can enter your zip code or county to be shown the nearest food distribution centers
    • Second Harvest of South Georgia: Visit feedingsga.org, select ‘Find Help’ in the ‘Learn’ section at the top of the page, you will be taken to a map where you can find the closest distributors to you


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The Georgia Access Plan: A Bad Deal for Consumers

Cover Georgia logo

On November 4, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp released a draft plan that, if approved, would drastically undermine comprehensive coverage for the 417,000 consumers who now have comprehensive coverage through the marketplace. Federal law allows states to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so long as a comparable number of Georgians have coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as they would have under the ACA, and the changes do not increase the federal deficit. Even under the most forgiving interpretation of these guardrails, Governor Kemp’s proposal fails to meet the test.

Fortunately, there’s still time to fight back! The state is required to seek public comments on this plan and will be accepting comments until December 3, 2019. Comments can be submitted online at CoverGA.org, at in-person comment hearings. This is an opportunity for Georgians to tell state leaders how this plan will impact their health and finances, and the health and finances of their loved ones.

Instead of undermining the coverage that so many Georgians rely on, state leaders should focus on preserving critical consumer protections, strengthening comprehensive coverage, investing in outreach and enrollment to Georgia communities, and working to address the rising health care costs for low-and middle-income Georgians. 


Hannah, a Georgia mom who says “My family can’t survive without the ACA.”

Disrupts coverage for more than 400,000 Georgians with a privatized marketplace 

Governor Kemp’s proposal seeks to expand coverage to approximately 30,000 out of more than one million uninsured Georgians at the peril of those consumers currently enrolled in comprehensive coverage using a risky new program. 

At the center of his plan, Governor Kemp aims to decentralize how consumers currently enroll in individual market coverage in favor of private web brokers and insurers. This means that consumers would no longer have an unbiased place to compare plan options and instead would be forced to rely on private entities who would have the incentive to enroll consumers in plans that offered the highest commission and not necessarily the plan that best fits their health needs.

Likely result: Georgia consumers will struggle to navigate numerous websites, translate the sales lingo of insurers, and disentangle conflicting information. For many, it may be harder to find in a plan that they feel good about.


Limits financial assistance, increasing out-of-pocket costs

Along with dismantling healthcare.gov, Governor Kemp plans to restructure financial assistance in a way that would raise premium costs for comprehensive coverage and likely cause many Georgians to lose coverage altogether. Under his plan, consumers could use financial assistance to purchase skimpier coverage, like short-term plans, that don’t have to meet the ACA’s minimum standards. Additionally, his plan doesn’t address whether or not cost-sharing reductions would be required, which currently help to lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for certain low-income consumers. As a result, Georgia consumers should expect to pay more out-of-pocket to get the care they need.

To make matters worse, because financial help is based on premiums for comprehensive coverage that will likely become more expensive under this plan, providing financial help to all eligible Georgians will cost more than what is currently budgeted. This means that some consumers who currently receive (or are eligible for) financial help would lose this valuable benefit.

Likely result: Premiums for comprehensive coverage will rise. At the same time, fewer Georgians will receive financial help to purchase coverage. Georgians will pay more out-of-pocket when they need health care.


Katherine, a Georgian with a pre-existing condition and ACA coverage

Weakens consumer protections

In order to allow private companies to run enrollment, the Governor’s plan seeks to eliminate crucial consumer protections. The protections that may be suspended include the requirement that insurance plans include enough doctors and hospitals so people can get care (called “network adequacy”); requirements about what information insurers must provide to consumers and how that information is presented; and mental health parity, which requires insurers to cover mental health services in a similar way as other health care. The Governor’s plan assumes these new skimpy plans will provide 90% of the benefits that comprehensive coverage under the ACA provides. There is no explanation or evidence to support this assumption.

Removing the requirement to cover the ten essential health benefits and mental health parity threatens access to critical services for many consumers with pre-existing conditions. For example, treatment and recovery services for people with substance use disorders would be threatened at a time when the state continues to struggle with opioid-related deaths and substance use disorders in general. These consumer protections enable people with mental illness and substance use disorders to obtain insurance that covers their conditions without bankrupting them. Without them, consumers will have to pay out-of-pocket for life-saving care, opening them up to thousands of dollars of medical debt.

Likely impact: Skimpy plans that do not offer basic health services like prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health services will become commonplace. As a result, Georgians will have a harder time accessing needed care and will pay more out-of-pocket.


The bottom line is Governor Kemp’s plan is terrible for Georgians. Any rational analysis will find it doesn’t meet even the laxest requirements of federal law. Georgians should weigh in today to reject this plan!   


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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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Legislative Update: Week 5

Action Alert: Patients First Act falls short

Last week, state leaders introduced 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 legislation allows for an 1115 waiver to extend Medicaid coverage to some poor adults in Georgia but leaves out thousands who would be covered under a full Medicaid expansion. Additionally, the bill allows the Governor to make potentially seismic changes to private health insurance in Georgia through 1332 waivers with little accountability. While it is heartening that Georgia’s leaders see the need to create a pathway to coverage for more Georgians, this proposed legislation falls short for two reasons, both of which we’re asking you to take action on:

1. The proposed 1115 Medicaid waiver would cover fewer people at a higher cost than Medicaid expansion. It would leave out thousands of Georgians in need of coverage and leave the state accountable for a larger share of the medical costs for those who would be newly covered. Ask Governor Kemp and your state legislators to get the best deal for Georgia by covering all eligible Georgians. (Then plan to join us for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol on February 28th!)

2. More than 480,000 Georgians rely on Georgia’s health insurance marketplace for health coverage, and many more are eligible. Changes made to private coverage through a 1332 waiver could benefit or harm these consumers, but the legislation, as written is too broad to determine its impact. Ask Governor Kemp and your state leaders to specify in the bill that any waiver will preserve critical consumer protections (like those that protect consumers with pre-existing conditions), maintain comprehensive, quality health coverage, support a stable marketplace through increased enrollment, and will not leave consumers on the hook for higher costs.


House passes step therapy bill
Step therapy legislation moves quickly through House

HB 63, a bill sponsored by Chairman of the House HHS Committee Representative Sharon Cooper, was passed by the House this week. HB 63 addresses step therapy, which 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. This bill would require health insurance plans to establish step therapy protocols and outline a process for health care providers to request exceptions. HB 63 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

 


GHF releases annual consumer health advocate’s guide
A Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide to the 2019 Legislative Session

GHF’s annual Consumer Health Advocate’s Guide is your map for navigating the Georgia legislative session. This annual booklet provides information on the legislative process, legislators, and committees, key agency officials, advocate contacts, and more. Experienced advocates and new volunteers will find their way around Georgia’s Capitol more easily with the information provided in this year’s guide. Download or pick up your copy today.

(Interested in a hard copy? Contact Michelle Conde.)


RSVP for Cover Georgia Day
Join Cover Georgia at the state capitol on February 28th!

Join us on Thursday, February 28th for Cover Georgia Day at the Capitol when we will ask our state legislators to close Georgia’s coverage gap by putting insurance cards in the pockets of all Georgians. For the first time in Georgia, there is wide-spread agreement among Georgia’s legislators that something must be done to extend coverage to low-income Georgians across the state. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask your elected officials to close Georgia’s coverage gap now! RSVP today!


Can’t make it? Call or send an email to your state legislators asking them to put an insurance card in the pockets of all Georgians.


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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Medicaid Matters: Maintaining independence for seniors

Charlie Ellison is 87 years old and a long time resident of Dalton, Georgia. Charlie 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.

After suffering a fall while living alone in 2016, Charlie’s nervous system was damaged and he was no longer able to live independently. He attended physical therapy for ten months and lived at a nursing home in Dalton during this time which he paid for out of pocket.

Now that Charlie has Medicaid coverage, he is able to visit RossWoods Adult Day Services every day and enjoys engaging in activities with others his age. He is also able to live at home with his daughter and son-in-law who help take care of him, rather than in a nursing home where he had less independence and fewer activities to keep him healthy and active.

Before Charlie’s fall, he was already managing diabetes and high blood pressure, and had a pacemaker in his chest. Charlie’s Medicaid coverage picks up the costs of some of his medications that are not covered by Medicare, which ensures Charlie remains as healthy and independent as possible.

For 168,000 seniors like Charlie who typically rely on low, fixed incomes, Medicaid makes the difference and helps to pay the costs of their Medicare coverage, and 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.


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! Read and share our latest storybook here!


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Legislative Update: Week 2

General Assembly meets for joint budget hearings

Last week the Georgia General Assembly met for the joint budget hearings during which Senate and House legislators heard from agency leaders and Governor Brian Kemp about the proposed current and upcoming state budgets. This year’s budgetary considerations consist of requested changes to the current FY 2019 state budget which will run through June 30th and proposals for the FY 2020 general state budget, which will begin on July 1st.

The House will now craft the budget requests into legislation and continue its funding considerations. Both chambers reconvened yesterday, January 28th, for the fifth day of legislative session.


2019 joint session budget hearings
Budget requests presented to the General Assembly

Last week, the General Assembly heard from department commissioners and other leaders regarding their budget requests for the amended FY 2019 budget (sometimes called the “little budget”) and the upcoming FY 2020 budget (called the “big budget”). Here we highlight some of the primary asks made by the state agencies that most impact consumer health. For more detailed budget analysis, please see the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Overview of Georgia’s 2020 Fiscal Year Budget document.

 


Department of Community Health 

The Department of Community Health (DCH) oversees Medicaid, PeachCare, and other state health care programs. Commissioner Berry requested an increase of $71 million in the amended FY 2019 budget to include $33.7 million for growth in Medicaid expense and $18.7 million for the Indigent Care Trust Fund, which draws down additional federal money for Disproportionate Share Hospital payments.

Commissioner Berry’s most significant request in the FY 2020 budget was an increase of $92 million to offset a reduction in the federal cost-sharing payments for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. Georgia’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate will drop from 67.62% to 67.30% for Medicaid and from 100% to 88.61% for PeachCare for Kids, prompting the funding request.


Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities 

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provides treatment, support services, and assistance to Georgians with disabilities, behavioral health challenges, and substance use disorders. Commissioner Fitzgerald’s request for the little budget mirrored the Governor’s recommendations to add $8.4 million for the Georgia Apex Program to provide support counselors for mental health services in high schools.

Commissioner Fitzgerald requested that the big budget include an increase of $78.6 million for the Department. The additional funds would be partially compromised of an additional $10.2 million for behavioral health crisis beds, $2.5 million for supported housing, and 125 new slots for NOW and COMP waivers to reduce the current waiting list.


Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services (DHS) delivers a wide range of human services designed to promote self-sufficiency, safety and well-being for all Georgians. Commissioner Crittenden requested that the big budget include $849,951 to increase funds for 50 additional Medicaid eligibility caseworkers.


The Department of Public Health did not present during the joint budget hearings last week and the Department of Insurance did not have any budgetary requests that were specifically health related. We will include summaries from both departments as we learn more.


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 releases 2019 policy priorities

Georgians for a Healthy Future released its 2019 policy priorities at this morning’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled legislative breakfast. These annual priorities outline the issues that GHF believes are most pressing for Georgia consumers and are best addressed by the state legislature. GHF will work to move all of these issues forward by engaging state policy makers, consumers, and coalition partners throughout the legislative session and the remainder of the year.

1. Increase the number of Georgians with health insurance.

Georgia’s uninsured rate hit a historic low of 12.9% in 2016, but remains one of the highest uninsured rates in the country because Georgia has not accepted federal funds to cover low-income Georgians. Approximately 240,000 Georgians remain stuck in the resulting coverage gap. These Georgians do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules and do not earn enough money to qualify for financial help through the Marketplace. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports closing this gap by extending health insurance to all Georgians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

2. Stabilize Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace

Almost half a million Georgians are enrolled in health care coverage through the health insurance Marketplace. While Georgia’s Marketplace has proven robust, the last two years have brought declines in enrollments, as federal policy changes have undercut its stability. Other states have taken steps to shore up their markets by implementing state reinsurance programs, instituting state-level consumer protections and enforcement mechanisms, limiting the sale of short-term junk plans, and investing in outreach & enrollment. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that promote affordable, comprehensive coverage and a competitive, stable Marketplace.

3. Ensure access to care and financial protections for consumers purchasing private health insurance.

When consumers enroll in a health insurance plan, they should have reasonable access to all covered services in the plan. As narrow provider networks become more common, health care consumers are at increased risk of not being able to access the medical services and providers they need without going out-of-network and receiving surprise out-of-network medical bills. In 2015, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners adopted a network adequacy model act for states. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports using this act as a foundation to develop quantitative standards for Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future further supports legislation that will hold consumers harmless when consumers end up with out-of-network bills despite making appropriate efforts to stay in network or because inadequate provider networks require them to go out of network to receive the services that they need.

4. Set and enforce standards that provide for equitable coverage of mental health and substance use treatment services by health plans.

The 2008 passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act) required that health plans cover behavioral health services as they would physical health services. The Parity Act is only meaningful if health plans are implementing it well, consumers and providers understand how it works, and there is appropriate oversight. GHF supports legislation that sets standards and oversight procedures to ensure that Georgia consumers receive the coverage for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to which they are entitled by law and for which they have paid.

5. Prevent nicotine use and addiction by young Georgians

Georgia has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country at just 37 cents per pack, which makes tobacco much more accessible to youth in Georgia than in many other states. Moreover, Georgia does not apply an excise tax on the nicotine-delivery devices (e.g. e-cigarettes, vaping pens) that are preferred by young people today. For price-sensitive young people, increasing the price of tobacco and nicotine products decreases use and addiction, and the burden of chronic disease in Georgia. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports legislation to increase Georgia’s tobacco tax by at least $1 and to add an equitable excise tax on all nicotine delivery devices.

6. Support partners in integrating health and equity in the policies across every sector to address social determinants of health that prevent equitable access to care and equitable health status.

Factors outside the health system such as adequate housing, education, and economic opportunity impact the health of individuals, families, and communities. Left unaddressed, these and other complicating factors can inhibit the effectiveness of approaches that are strictly within the health system. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports policies that aim to advance health and health equity by addressing the social determinants of health.

To download GHF’s 2019 policy priorities, click here.


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Medicaid Matters: The impact of coverage for Georgians

Medicaid provides health care coverage to almost two million Georgians, including 1.3 million children across the state and 500,000 seniors and people with disabilities. It’s comprehensive coverage provides needed health care services that would otherwise be unaffordable to low-income Georgia families and individuals in communities across the state. Because Medicaid is so fundamental to Georgians and Georgia’s health care system, GHF is highlighting it in two new resources!

The Medicaid Matters to Georgia storybook shares the real health care stories of Georgia children and families. Georgians from across the state share the important role that Medicaid plays in their lives. Hear directly from Sherry, Travis, Oliver, and others about their experiences. Oppositely, Mary, Susie, and other uninsured Georgians share how Medicaid coverage could improve their lives if state policy makers closed Georgia’s coverage gap.

 

 

Our new Medicaid Matters for Georgia fact sheet is updated with what you need know about Medicaid. This one-page fact sheet outlines who is eligible for Medicaid in Georgia, what health services and supports are covered, and why Medicaid is a good investment for Georgia.

 

GHF’s new resources bring attention to the difference Medicaid makes in the lives of Georgians every day and the potential it has to serve those who are currently uninsured. We hope these new resources help policymakers, advocates, and consumers from across the state better understand the importance of ensuring all Georgians have access to quality, affordable healthcare. We invite you to read and share both with your friends, colleagues, and partners.

 


Georgians for a Healthy Future is partnering with community groups across the state to host Georgia Voices for Medicaid events. If you are interested in learning more about Georgia’s Medicaid program, who it covers, how it benefits the state, and how you can be a strong health care advocate, you should attend! Check out our events page to see if we have any Georgia Voices for Medicaid events happening near you or contact Alyssa Green at agreen@healthyfuturega.org if you would like to schedule one in your community.


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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner

The race to be Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is one of the most overlooked statewide races on the ballot this November, despite the position’s impact on the health and finances of almost all Georgians.

Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner (commonly referred to as the Department of Insurance or DOI) is headed by Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner. The Department oversees health, auto, long-term care, and other insurance products that can be regulated by the state. For Georgians who have individual or small-group insurance (about 2.6 million Georgians), the Insurance Commissioner has a direct impact on their insurance rates, their ability to access needed health services, and the extent to which their coverage is transparent and fair.

Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is a constitutional officer in Georgia and is elected by Georgia voters for a four-year term. The Commissioner and the Department are tasked with regulating insurance companies and licensing insurance agents operating in Georgia and overseeing state fire safety initiatives, in addition to other non-health-related duties.

Because the Insurance Commissioner is primarily responsible for overseeing private health insurance in Georgia, they are key to how the Affordable Care Act and its consumer protections are implemented in the state. For example, the ACA requires that insurance companies justify any premium rate increases of more than 10% through a process called “rate review”. The Commissioner and Department staff determine how strong and transparent to make Georgia’s rate review process, and in doing so, determine how accountable insurers must be as they ask consumers for more dollars out of their household budgets.

The Commissioner and DOI are also responsible for ensuring that health plans do not design their benefits so that they discriminate against certain types of consumers. For example, if a health plan only covers one type of HIV medication and only at the highest cost-sharing level of the plan, the Commissioner could instruct his department to examine whether the plan’s design constitutes discrimination against people living with HIV. Similarly, health plans are required to cover mental health and substance use treatment services at the same level as they cover physical health services. If the Commissioner is lax in overseeing the enforcement of these laws, consumers could be financially blocked from receiving the health services that they need.

The Commissioner and his office also license insurance agents selling health insurance plans and other consumer products, as well as Georgia’s health insurance navigators. The position of “navigator” was created and funded through the Affordable Care Act in order to provide free, local, unbiased assistance for consumer enrolling into health coverage through the Marketplace. Currently, Georgia’s navigators have to meet unnecessarily burdensome licensing requirements and pay a large fee in order to be licensed by the state, something that Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner has the power to address.

The Department of Insurance is further charged with protecting Georgia citizens from insurance fraud, mediating disputes between consumers and insurance companies, and assisting consumers with questions. The Georgia Department of Insurance has historically been under-resourced and, as a result, has struggled to carry out these tasks in a robust way. Georgia’s next Commissioner will be integral in advocating for the budget and resources needed to assist and support Georgia consumers across all insurance products.

Georgia’s next Insurance Commissioner will have a significant role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next four years or more. Whether and how the state addresses issues like access to care, health care affordability, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system may be decided by voters at the ballot box this November.


This blog is part of a series from Georgians for a Healthy Future to educate consumers about the impact of the 2018 election on timely consumer health issues. Please check out our previous blogs in the series:

*Georgians for a Healthy Future is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization. We do not endorse or support any candidates or political party.


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Stories from Georgia’s coverage gap: Rural Georgians left behind

Pricilla Epps is a 54-year-old former security guard who lives in Blakely, GA, a rural community in the southwest region of the state.

Two days after having a sudden stroke, Priscilla lost her job because she was unable to work her scheduled shifts as she recovered that week. Priscilla’s health insurance was provided by her employer, so she lost her health insurance coverage when she lost her job, leaving her on the hook for all of the hospital costs that accumulated as she received care for her stroke. After a two-day stay, Priscilla was told she would have to leave the hospital due to her inability to pay for the costs of in-patient care.

Experiencing dizziness, difficult walking, discomfort in her limbs, and frequent forgetfulness, Priscilla went to see Dr. Kinsell, the only available physician in Clay County, where she still receives the limited follow-up care she can afford. She is still unable to go back to work or live on her own, so Priscilla has been living with her daughter for the time being.

Like Priscilla, 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 the health care coverage gap. According to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina’s Rural Health Project, Medicaid expansions in other states have cut the uninsured rate in rural areas by half, while Georgia has seen a much smaller decline from 43 percent to 38 percent among the same population.

For rural Georgia residents like Priscilla, health coverage would open doors to the physicians and services that they need to stay employed or get back to work. For rural communities like Blakely, more residents with health coverage could make the difference between keeping or losing the few remaining primary care physicians in the area.


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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