Laura Colbert credits her two dogs, Mud and Ginger, with helping her maintain her own health and work-life balance in the face of numerous pressing priorities.
Join us for a webinar and in-person meeting about ACA Navigators April 10 and 11
If you or your organization are interested in applying for the upcoming funding opportunity provided through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for navigator grants or you would like to connect with other organizations who will be applying, please join Georgians for a Healthy Future, Seedco, Families USA and Enroll America for an important webinar on April 10th, 2013 at 11am and an in-person meeting on April 11th, 2013 from 2:30 to 4:30pm at the Philip Rush Center (1530 DeKalb Ave).
In the next few days, HHS is planning to announce funding that will be available to organizations for outreach and assistance to help individuals and small employers enroll in health coverage. These grants are created as part of the navigator program that was established by the Affordable Care Act. To learn more about navigators, click here.
To join us for the webinar, please click here to RSVP. To join us for the in-person meeting to further discuss this funding opportunity and opportunities for collaboration on outreach and enrollment, click here.
The 2013 Georgia Legislative Session has ended. The 2014 state budget and dozens of bills now go to Governor Deal for his signature or veto (the governor does have the authority to line-item veto parts of the state budget). Bills that did not pass this year are still viable in the 2014 Legislative Session, which will be the second year of a two-year session. Below is a summary of bills that passed the General Assembly this year that could impact health care consumers. For a complete rundown of how health care-related legislation fared, see Georgia Health News’s recap.
Legislation that could impact Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries
The final 2014 budget eliminated proposed rate cuts for health care providers (a 0.74% rate cut had been proposed for non-primary care providers within Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids), eliminated a proposed coding change that would have resulted in cuts for certain providers, and included funds for enrollment growth in Medicaid. This is good news for access to health care services; however, Medicaid, PeachCare, and other public health programs have sustained deep budget cuts in recent years. In future years, if we are to improve the state’s health, additional investments in public health and health care delivery will be needed.
HR 107 would create a joint study committee on Medicaid reform that would study current Medicaid policies and procedures, models in other states, and other aspects of the Medicaid program and report to the General Assembly and the Governor by December 31, 2013 with recommendations. HR 107 passed both the House and the Senate.
SB 62 would create a Federal and State Funded Health Care Financing Programs Overview Committee, a joint committee of the General Assembly. SB 62 has passed both the House and the Senate.
SB 24, which would authorize the Department of Community Health to levy a fee on hospitals to continue drawing down federal funds to support Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, was passed by both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the Governor back in February. The current hospital fee had been set to expire on June 30, 2013. The renewal of the fee was essential to ensuring Medicaid and PeachCare’s solvency and preserving access to hospital care in Georgia.
Legislation impacting health insurance consumer protections and access to insurance
SB 236 would require insurance companies to send concurrently with any statements sent to consumers that provide notice of premium increases an estimate of the portion of any premium increase that is due to the Affordable Care Act. How this is determined would be left to insurance companies to calculate, and they would not have to disclose their methodology. There would also be no requirement to present information about any other factors leading to premium increases or to notify consumers about available tax credits that may more than offset premium increases or about any cost savings or benefit enhancements they are receiving as a result of the Affordable Care Act. As such, this bill would result in consumers receiving incomplete and potentially misleading information. SB 236 has passed both the House and the Senate.
HB 198 would require licensing, certification, and training for health benefit exchange navigators and would restrict their ability to assist consumers. While ensuring that consumers receive accurate information from navigators about their health insurance options and protecting consumers is an important goal shared by Georgians for a Healthy Future, HB 198’s restrictive language and potentially duplicative training requirements could deter community-focused nonprofits, whose participation in the navigator program will be essential in reaching vulnerable populations who have historically faced barriers to enrolling in health insurance, from becoming navigators or from providing appropriate consumer assistance. Georgians for a Healthy Future looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure this bill is implemented in a manner that minimizes duplication and encourages participation from community-focused nonprofit organizations. HB 198 has passed both the House and the Senate.
HB 389 would allow insurance companies to terminate, cancel, or non-renew conversion policies or any health insurance policies offered through the health insurance assignment system when guaranteed issue becomes available (with a 90-day cancellation period and a 90-day open enrollment period into new health insurance options made available through the Affordable Care Act). HB 389 has passed both the House and the Senate.
The Commission on Mandated Health Benefits, created through legislation passed in 2011 to advise the governor and the General Assembly on the social and financial impact of current and proposed mandated benefits and providers, held its first meeting on March 12th. The meeting was largely an organizational one, but members also discussed how the commission’s work might intersect with aspects of the Affordable Care Act such as essential health benefits and the bills before the General Assembly that would require insurance companies to cover autism, child hearing aids, and medical foods. The next meeting date has not yet been announced. To read the minutes from the March 12th meeting, click here.
From our friends at Voices for Georgia’s Children:
As of Jan. 1, 2013, Georgia parents and legal guardians once again have the option to sign their children up for child-only health insurance policies. However, open enrollment ends two days from now on Jan. 31. Thereafter, “Child-Only” policy enrollment will be limited to special qualifying events.
Previously, child health insurance coverage in Georgia was available only through Medicaid, PeachCare for Kids ®, or as a part of parent or guardian coverage. Now, child-only policies –– for children under age 19 –– are available to parents or legal guardians who are not eligible for Medicaid or PeachCare and are uninsured, have a policy that does not offer dependent coverage, or experience an involuntary loss of coverage. Further, legal guardians who are insured by Medicare (e.g., seniors), can also purchase this type of policy. Insurers are required to offer coverage even if a child has a pre-existing condition.
Health insurance coverage has a positive effect on quality of life. The uninsured use fewer preventive and diagnostic services, are sicker when diagnosed and tend to receive less therapeutic care, like surgical interventions and medication, once diagnosed. Further, health insurance reduces mortality rates.
“Children who have health insurance have better health outcomes,” said Danté McKay, Associate Policy Director for child health at Voices for Georgia’s Children. “We are delighted that child only policies are returning to Georgia which currently ranks fourth with more than 236,000 uninsured children. Child-only policies will provide a key coverage option for reducing this number.”
Child-only policies are available from the following Georgia insurers:
- United HealthCare: 1-877-247-0209
- Child Only Services: 1-877-244-6215
Click here to read more about child-only policies
Thanks to the enactment of HB 1166, child only policies are once again available in the individual health insurance marketplace in Georgia. However, there is a short open enrollment period to sign up (January 1 – 31st of this year). To learn more, click here or contact the Georgia Department of Insurance at 800-656-2298.
Each year, Georgians for a Healthy Future develops policy priorities that guide our advocacy work on behalf of health care consumers. Below are the legislative and policy priorities we are supporting in 2013.
Extend health insurance coverage to a substantial portion of Georgia’s uninsured by expanding Medicaid. Approximately 1.9 million Georgians are uninsured, many of whom are low-income working adults without access to an employer-sponsored health plan. An estimated 650,000 of these Georgians could gain health insurance coverage in 2014 at minimal state cost by extending Medicaid to those newly eligible through the Affordable Care Act. The infusion of federal Medicaid dollars into Georgia will both support our state’s health care delivery system and foster economic growth. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports expanding coverage through Medicaid to individuals and families with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
Preserve and strengthen consumer protections for Georgians in private health insurance plans through both federal and state advocacy. The private health insurance marketplace is rapidly evolving, largely as a result of changes spurred by the Affordable Care Act. As these reforms are implemented, it is critical that the consumer perspective is represented in the policy-making process and that rules and regulations incorporate consumer needs. Many of the decisions that would impact health care consumers are currently being made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. To that end, Georgians for a Healthy Future will monitor and advocate on behalf of Georgia consumers on issues including the development of a federal health insurance exchange, essential health benefits, and other private market reforms. At the same time, Georgia policymakers retain authority over many aspects of our state’s health insurance marketplace. Georgians for a Healthy future will continue to support efforts that preserve and strengthen patient and consumer protections and oppose state legislation that places these protections at risk.
Ensure access to quality health care for Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries. The Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs provide health insurance for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Georgians for a Healthy Future will monitor legislative and agency level activity and support proposals that facilitate continuous coverage and enrollment, preserve and expand access to care, and improve health outcomes. Because ensuring access to quality care for Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries also requires a Medicaid system that is financially sound, Georgians for a Healthy Future will support proposals that ensure the program is adequately funded and will oppose cuts to the program, including cuts to provider reimbursement rates, which jeopardize access to care. We will also continue to monitor the Georgia Department of Community Health’s Medicaid redesign process.
Strengthen Georgia’s public health system. Our state’s public health system plays a critical role by vaccinating children, monitoring and preventing epidemics, ensuring safe food and water, and providing both clinical and community-based preventive services. Despite an increasing need for these services and a growing awareness of the importance of social determinants to community health outcomes, Georgia’s per capita public health spending is among the lowest in the nation. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports a robust, adequately funded public health system to meet the needs of our state.
Increase the tobacco tax. The current funding environment demands evidence-based policy solutions that both advance the health of our state and generate needed revenue. In recent years, even the most basic, vital, and cost-effective programs have been subject to deep budget cuts. Georgians for a Healthy Future opposes further cuts to these vital programs and supports budget solutions such as a substantial increase in the state’s tobacco tax of at least a dollar per pack. Tobacco taxes are a proven strategy with the dual benefit of bringing in additional state revenue and improving the health of Georgians by reducing adult and youth smoking.
Support policies and practices that advance health equity. In addition to overall health outcomes and indicators that consistently place Georgia in the bottom tier nationally, our state has considerable health disparities between communities. Racial and ethnic minority communities, rural and low-income urban communities, and those with disabilities and chronic mental illness, all experience worse health and worse opportunities for health than their peers. Georgians for a Healthy Future will continue to support policies and practices that advance the opportunities for optimal health for all Georgians.
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin was named a consumer representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) again for 2013. The program provides a structured way for health care consumer and patient advocates from around the country to provide input from the consumer perspective. Having representation from Georgia’s health advocacy community in this program helps to ensure the voices of health care consumers in Georgia are heard as important decisions about health insurance and consumer protections are made.
Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer review, and coordinate their regulatory oversight. The work of the NAIC is particularly timely and important this year because they are developing model rules and regulations for implementation of the private health insurance reforms associated with the Affordable Care Act. To that end, earlier this year the NAIC consumer representatives collaboratively released “Implementing the Affordable Care Act’s Insurance Reforms: Consumer Recommendations for Regulators and Lawmakers,” available for download here. To view the NAIC press release announcing the 2013 consumer representatives, click here.
This week’s election results removed any uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act’s future: the health reform law is here to stay. Now it is time to do the hard work of ensuring that health reform meets its promise in Georgia and that health care consumers have access to meaningful and affordable coverage.
Over the past three days, several news stories have outlined the key next steps and decision points for Georgia policymakers on Medicaid and the private health insurance marketplace, and many of them turned to Georgians for a Healthy Future to explain the implications for Georgia health care consumers. All articles are linked below.
The Augusta Chronicle | November 8, 2012
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | November 7, 2012
11 Alive News | November 8, 2012
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | November 7, 2012
Georgia Health News | November 7, 2012
Perhaps the biggest issue for Georgia’s policymakers to consider in the coming months is the Medicaid expansion. Leveraging the resources on the table to expand Medicaid will improve access to care, strengthen our state’s health care delivery system, and bolster Georgia’s economy. If your organization would like to join the Cover Georgia coalition in support of expanding Medicaid, email Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Outreach and Advocacy Director Amanda Ptashkin.
Earlier this year, Governor Deal signed into law House Bill 1166 to restore child-only health insurance plans to the Georgia marketplace. The legislation was sponsored by Representative Atwood and supported by a broad coalition of consumer health advocates, health care industry stakeholders, and legislators, including Georgians for a Healthy Future. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2013, and will make standalone insurance policies for children available through an open enrollment period in January or in the event of a qualifying event throughout the year. The Georgia Department of Insurance is currently preparing the draft regulation, after which there will be a public comment period with the final regulation expected in December.
Several states around the country have taken similar action to make these plans available for children, and earlier this month the Commonwealth Fund issued a report examining legislative and regulatory efforts around the country during 2010 and 2011 and found that, in states that had taken action during those years, child-only coverage is now available in nearly all of those states. Since Georgia’s legislation was passed in 2012 and has not yet gone into effect it was not included in the analysis; however, the authors interviewed officials and advocates in Georgia and noted that legislation had been signed into law in 2012. Kaiser Health News also reported on the story last week. That article is available here. The study is available here.
Health exchanges are a central feature of the Affordable Care Act and are intended to provide meaningful and affordable health insurance options for individuals and families who don’t have access to health insurance at work. The exchange, or marketplace, will be a place where consumers can shop for private health insurance plans utilizing decision tools and accessing tax credits to make the plans affordable. By 2014, these marketplaces will be up and running in every state, with some states operating their own exchange marketplaces, some states partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on a “state partnership exchange,” and some states deferring to a federally facilitated exchange.
States planning to move forward with their own state-based exchanges must submit a blueprint by November 16th of this year. Georgia is not expected to be ready for a state-based exchange, as reported in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week, and thus a default to a federally facilitated exchange is likely in Georgia.
Ensuring that a health insurance exchange works for Georgia consumers is a key priority for Georgians for a Healthy Future, whether it is a state-based exchange, partnership exchange, or federally facilitated exchange. Regardless of who is administering the exchange on the back end, we must make sure it works for consumers on the front end. To that end, Georgians for a Healthy Future remains engaged in this important issue on behalf of health care consumers. Our Executive Director served on the Governor’s Health Insurance Advisory Committee in 2011, which studied options for Georgia, and submitted a minority report advocating for Georgia to move forward with planning for a state-based exchange despite the full committee’s recommendations against doing so; Georgians for a Healthy Future released a well-received policy brief in August 2011 making policy recommendations for a Georgia exchange; and our staff and coalition partners have been active in discussions with federal officials, along with consumer health advocates from around the country, about how to make sure federally facilitated exchanges are responsive to the needs of consumers within the states.
More information about the exchange blueprint submission process is available here; a summary of Georgia’s status on exchange planning is available here; and all archived materials from Governor Deal’s health insurance exchange advisory committee are available here.