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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Bill analysis: SB 106 aims to improve access to health care but falls short

For the first time in Georgia, there is widespread and bipartisan agreement among Georgia’s Governor and legislative leaders about the pressing need to provide health insurance to more Georgians. To address the state’s rising uninsured rate, Governor Brian Kemp has put forth a bill, SB 106 (also called the Patients First Act), that would allow the state to submit two kinds of health care waivers:

  • A Medicaid 1115 waiver that could be used to extend coverage to more low-income Georgians, among other reforms; and
  • 1332 State Innovation waivers that would make changes to Georgia’s private health insurance marketplace.

(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.)

While the legislation’s goal to extend affordable, quality coverage to more Georgians is one with which GHF wholeheartedly agrees, the bill currently falls short by limiting the number of people who would benefit, increasing the likely costs to the state, and leaving to door open to an erosion of critical consumer protections.

SB 106 limits a future 1115 Medicaid waiver to cover only adults making up to 100% of the federal poverty line (FPL) ($12,490 for an individual and $21,330 for a family of three per year). While this would cover 240,000 more Georgians than are currently eligible for Medicaid, the cut-off leaves out an estimated 200,000 uninsured Georgia adults making just more than poverty-level wages (up to 138% FPL). These Georgians make up to $17,296 for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three.

The Affordable Care Act envisioned that all adults making up to 138% FPL would be covered by Medicaid and provides states with an incentive to do so. States that extend coverage to these newly-eligible adults pay only 10% of the costs and the federal government picks up the rest (90%) in perpetuity.

If Georgia’s leaders approve SB 106 in its current form and leave out the adults just above the poverty line, our state will miss out on the ACA’s “enhanced match rate”. Wisconsin is the only other state that has opted to take this route, and as a result, has paid $1.1 billion more to cover 80,000 fewer people.

A small change to the language in SB 106 would give the state the flexibility to increase coverage to people up to 138% FPL, allowing the state to cover an estimated 440,000 Georgians at a lower cost.

The second part of SB 106 allows Georgia to submit at least one 1332 State Innovation waiver. These innovation waivers were created by the ACA to allow states to test different approaches for providing primarily private health insurance to their residents. At the same time, the law established “guardrails” for 1332 waivers to ensure consumers were sufficiently protected. Unfortunately, these guardrails have been greatly weakened in recent months leaving consumers at risk.

From Kaiser Family Foundation

So far, all eight states with approved 1332 waivers have carried out plans that benefit consumers—and Georgia could too. However, the broad language in SB 106 as currently written allows for proposals that could also create sizable and risky changes that harm consumers. For example, Georgia could allow the ACA’s financial help that is now available to consumers to buy coverage to be used instead for the purchase of junk insurance plans. This would likely draw healthy consumers out of the ACA Marketplace to cheaper, low-quality plans and send insurance premiums into an upward spiral for consumers with pre-existing conditions who need comprehensive coverage.

Georgia’s legislators could narrow the scope of allowable 1332 waivers by specifying that the waiver must be used for a specific beneficial reason, like establishing a reinsurance system to lower insurance premiums, or by laying out a set of principles that the waiver must meet to ensure Georgia consumers are fully protected. (GHF’s Executive Director proposed a set of consumer-friendly principles when she testified to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee in February.)

Georgia’s leaders have taken an encouraging step forward by proposing changes to state law that aim to increase access to care and address affordability concerns for Georgia families. A few small, meaningful changes to SB 106 would assure a path to affordable, quality health coverage exists for all Georgians.


Want to learn more? Here are a few resources that you may find helpful:

Follow changes and updates about SB 106 in GHF’s weekly legislative update emails.


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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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GHF kicks off 2019 with Health Care Unscrambled breakfast

Georgians for a Healthy Future’s ninth annual Health Care Unscrambled breakfast built on previous years’ successes with another standing room-only crowd.

This year’s program began with a personal story from consumer Lori Murdock, who bravely shared her experience struggling to manage a chronic disease without health insurance because she was caught in Georgia’s coverage gap. Lori’s experience illustrates the pressing need to provide health insurance to all Georgians regardless of income.

 

Following Lori was our bipartisan legislative panel. This year’s legislative panelists were:

Each panelist provided updates on emerging health care trends impacting Georgia and took questions from the audience about what health issues are likely to be taken up in the 2019 legislative session. Topics included Medicaid expansion, surprise out of network medical billing, access to mental health,  network adequacy, Certificate of Need reform, social determinants of health, rural health care access, federal health care reform, and affordability of health care. All three panelists shared an optimistic vision for health care in this years legislative session.

This year’s key note speaker was Dr. David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund. Dr. Blumenthal brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to our conversation about how innovations in health care and coverage can help us achieve better health outcomes for all Georgians. He led the discussion by comparing Georgia’s health outcomes to those of our neighboring states, and then provided an agenda for improvement. He emphasized that Georgia is unlikely to overcome poor health outcomes unless state leadership improves insurance coverage, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Fund’s own research on Medicaid expansion’s impacts on population health. Dr. Blumenthal also shared the importance of investments in the social determinants of health for improving health outcomes and ultimately saving money. Dr. Blumenthal’s presentation can be accessed here and the Georgia scorecard from the Commonwealth Fund can be found here.

To see photos, review materials, and get more information about this year’s Health Care Unscrambled event, please visit the event page.

For more event pictures visit our Facebook photo album. 


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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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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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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s General Assembly

Early voting is underway ahead of the upcoming November 6th Election Day. Georgians across the state are heading to the polls to cast their votes for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state legislators and other elected positions, and voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have a critical impact on consumers health issues in Georgia.

All of Georgia’s state legislative seats are on the ballot this fall and a record number of seats are being competitively contested. The resulting changes in the General Assembly could have a big impact on the future of health and health care for Georgia consumers.

Georgia’s General Assembly is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Georgia has one of the largest state legislatures in the nation with a total of 236 members, made up of 56 Senators and 180 Representatives. Every Georgia resident has one Georgia Senator and one Georgia House member, both of whom are up for re-election every two years.

Constitutionally, the General Assembly is only responsible for proposing and passing an annual state budget; however, during the body’s annual 40-day session, legislators also propose, debate, and pass laws for the state of Georgia, including those that regulate health care, health coverage, or that impact health through another sector (like education or transportation).  

All appropriations bills, which designate how state funds are to be spent, must originate in the House. Health care is the state’s second largest expenditure and made up almost 20% of this year’s annual budget. Each year, after the Governor proposes a state budget, the legislative leaders of the House turn the proposed budget into a bill for consideration by the House’s appropriations committee and then by the full chamber. When the House has approved the budget, the budget goes through the same process in the Senate. Once approved by both chambers, any differences are worked out in a conference committee, before sending the budget back to the Governor to be approved or vetoed.

The decisions made during the General Assembly’s budget considerations can have a big impact on health care and coverage for Georgians. For example, the General Assembly has over the last three years approved pay increases for primary care and OB-GYN doctors and dentists treating Medicaid patients, which improves access to care for the almost 2 million Georgians who rely on Medicaid for health coverage.

Members of the General Assembly may also 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 Medicaid expansion to Georgia’s health insurance Marketplace. Many legislators receive ideas for legislation from concerns and complaints brought to them by their constituents (an important reason to get to know your legislators!).

Each year, hundreds of bills are proposed and only a fraction successfully pass both chambers. Health-related bills typically pass through the Health & Human Services and Insurance Committees in each chamber. Legislators can consider bills until Sine Die, the 40th and last day of the legislative session. When approved by both chambers, successful legislation goes to the Governor for approval or veto.

One of the most impactful pieces of health-related legislation passed by the state legislature in recent years is HB 990 (2014), which requires the General Assembly to approve any expansion of Medicaid. This bill effectively revoked the Governor’s ability to act independently to close Georgia’s coverage gap, making it more difficult to expand health coverage to low-income adults in Georgia. 

Georgia’s General Assembly will have many new faces after the upcoming election, each of whom will play a role in shaping the state’s health care landscape over the next two 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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A consumer health advocates guide to the 2018 elections: Georgia’s Governor

Early voting began last week ahead of the upcoming November 6th Election Day. Georgians across the state are heading to the polls to cast their votes for Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state legislators and other elected positions, and voters’ decisions about the candidates in each race will have a critical impact on consumers health issues in Georgia.

One of the most visible positions on the ballot and one that plays a meaningful role in health care policy for the state is Georgia’s Governor. The Governor heads the state’s executive branch, which is broadly responsible for implementing, supporting, and enforcing Georgia’s laws.

As head of the executive branch, the Governor has the authority to appoint and provide direction to the leaders of most of Georgia’s executive branch departments, including the Commissioners of the Departments of Community Health (the state’s Medicaid agency), Public Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Family and Children Services. Because most health-related programs in the state are run by one of these agencies, the ability to appoint department leadership provides the Governor with outsized influence on the direction, priorities, and initiatives within each.

Ahead of the state legislative session, the Governor has the added responsibility of proposing an annual state budget for the General Assembly’s consideration. Health care is regularly the state’s second largest expenditure, making up almost 20% of the annual budget. Aside from expected items like Medicaid expenditures, the Governor may propose special investments that promote his/her health-related priorities. For example, Georgia’s FY19 budget includes an additional $21.4 million to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services as recommended to Governor Deal by his Commission on Children’s Mental Health. Once the legislature has considered and passed a budget, the Governor has the power to veto or approve the spending plan.

At the end of each year’s legislative session, the Governor has 40 days to approve or veto (“veto” means “to reject”) legislation. Most laws passed by the General Assembly are approved but a few each year are rejected by the Governor because they are ill-informed, controversial, or contrary to the Governor’s priorities. In recent years, Governor Deal has vetoed some health-related laws like SB 357 in 2018, which would have established a Health Care Coordination and Innovation Council.

Once a bill is approved, the Governor may direct the executive branch agencies about how the law should be carried out. For example, if the Georgia General Assembly approves future legislation to expand Medicaid in Georgia, the Governor may provide the Commissioner of Community Health with instructions about how the expansion should be implemented, including program elements that make it easier or harder for people to enroll in or use their new coverage.

Georgia’s next Governor 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 blog, Eight questions for health care voters to ask Georgia candidates, where you can find a list of questions to help health care voters get to know the candidates on their ballots.

*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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Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: FY2019 budget and children’s mental health

Despite several missed opportunities to address consumer health concerns during this year’s state legislative session, the FY2019 budget includes several impactful investments. Last week, Governor Nathan Deal traveled through Georgia and held budget signing ceremonies in Atlanta, Acworth, Blue Ridge, Statesboro, and Tifton for the $26 billion spending plan which will begin on July 1 of this year through June 30, 2019. The infusion of dollars into children’s mental health is especially noteworthy and exciting because of the impact it is expected to have across the state.

Governor Deal has recently made children’s behavioral health one of his top health care priorities and this year included in his proposed budget $20.6 million to fund recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. During its consideration of the state budget, he legislature ultimately increased the funding dedicated to these recommendations to $21.4 million.

These funded recommendations include behavioral health crisis services, supported employment and education for young adults with behavioral health needs, provider training and telehealth, and opioid abuse prevention for youth. Funding for suicide prevention will in part go towards expanding the capacity of GCAL, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, which provides 24/7 online and telephone support for people who are seeking services for developmental disabilities, mental health, or substance use issues. Some of the additional funding is also dedicated to the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with BH needs..

In the coming months, we will break down the Commission’s funded priorities and their impact on young Georgians. Look for our Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies blog mini-series.

Looking for more information on this topic? Georgians for a Healthy Future will be hosting an educational forum later this month during which we will explore the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. Join us in person or via webcast for this exciting and important event!


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Sine Die

Thats a wrap for the 2018 Georgia legislative session!

The Georgia General Assembly completed the 2018 legislative session in the early morning hours on Friday. A flurry of significant bills passed in the final days of the session. We are disappointed that agreement could not be reached to protect consumers from surprise out of network medical bills, but are heartened that other legislation passed to improve access to health care for consumers across the state. Check out our summary of the more notable bills below and find a full list of health care related legislation at GHF’s legislative tracker.

 


Everything you need to know about the 2018 legislative session

Georgians for a Healthy Future and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute will be presenting “Changes in Health Care and Policy in the 2018 Legislative Session” on Thursday, April 19th at 10:00 AM. Make sure to join GHF and GBPI to hear an overview about the bills, resolutions, and budgets that were passed and that will affect Georgia’s health care system and consumers. Tune in to this webinar to find out how this session’s legislation may affect your work, your health care, or your coverage.


 

WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK
HB 683: Amended FY2018 Budget | PASSED

HB 683 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2018. The FY2018 supplementary budget (also called the “little budget”), makes necessary, mid-year adjustments to the current state budget. Governor Deal signed signed the $25.4 billion amended budget on March 9, 2018 at a ceremony in Polk County. The budget included $1.2 million for hospitals to offset costs due to the high number of flu cases.


HB 684: FY2019 Budget | PASSED 

HB 684 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The budget, which totals $26.2 billion, includes several new investments in children’s mental health per the recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health, and fully funds and the Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s (MMRC) recommendations at $2 million. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY2019 budget, read the Community Health and Behavioral Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


HB 314: Surprise billing legislation | DID NOT PASS

Legislators failed to reach an agreement about how to best resolve the problem of surprise out of network billing for Georgia consumers. HB 314 (formerly SB 359) would have prevented consumers from receiving balance bills when they unexpectedly receive care from providers that are not in their insurance plan networks during emergencies. Surprise out-of-network medical bills can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and are more common when insurance plan provider networks are very narrow and restrictive. Georgia’s provider networks are the narrowest in the nation.


SB 357: Legislation to establish Health Coordination and Innovation Council | PASSED

SB 357 establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council and an advisory board to the Council. The Council will act as a statewide coordinating platform, bringing together all of health care’s major stakeholders. It’s members will include the Commissioners of several state agencies as well as a primary care physician, a pharmacist, a dentist, and representatives from the academic community, but there are no specifications about who will serve on the Council’s advisory body. The legislation sunsets in 2022 and will have to be reauthorized in order to operate past July 1st of that year.


HB 769: Recommendations from the Rural House Development | PASSED

HB 769 is the result of the 2017 House Rural Development Council’s work. The bill included a number of provisions, most prominently of which was the creation of a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability within the existing State Office of Rural Health. The bill also increases the rural hospital tax credit to 100%, directed the Department of Community Health to streamline and create efficiencies within the state medical plan, allows for the establishment of micro-hospitals, sets up an incentive program for physicians practicing in rural areas, and redefines “rural county”.


HB 827: Rural hospitals tax credit increase | DID NOT PASS

HB 827, introduced by Rep. Trey Kelley, would have expanded the rural hospital tax credit program from a 90% credit to a 100% credit. The tax credit program went into effect last year and has resulted in the donation of about $10 million to rural hospitals thus far. The legislation was tabled late in the legislative session because the tax credit language was included in HB 769.


HB 740: Education legislation impacting behavioral needs of young students | PASSED

HB 740, which requires schools to provide a multi-tiered system of supports for a student in pre-school through third grade prior to expelling or suspending the student for five or more days was passed by the Senate last week. The legislation provides increased opportunities for schools to screen students for a variety of academic and behavioral health needs, and connect them to the appropriate health and other services.


SB 325: Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act & Step therapy | DID NOT PASS

SB 325 would have allowed 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 would also have granted states easier access to investigative and disciplinary information about providers. All of the bill’s original language was removed and substituted with new legislative language that, among other provisions, limits step therapy and sets up a process for physicians to request exceptions (previously HB 519). Step therapy is a requirement by some insurers that patients try a series of lower-cost treatments before the insurer will cover the treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician.


SB 351: Changes for APRNs | DID NOT PASS

SB 351 would have expanded from four to eight the number of advanced practice registered nurses a physician is allowed to supervise and would allow APRNs to order radiographic imaging for patients if their supervising physician delegated the authority. The legislation was significantly diminished from the original proposal which would have granted APRNs a greater scope of practice.


SB 352: Legislation to establish Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery | DID NOT PASS

SB 352 establishes a Commission on Substance Abuse & Recovery, headed by a director and charged with coordinating data among relevant government entities; informing strategies to combat the opioid crisis within the Departments of Public Health and Education, the Attorney General’s Office, and other state entities; consulting with the Governor’s office on a potential Medicaid waiver related to opioid abuse; and developing and informing other efforts to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services across the state.


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