We are fighting for Georgians

As Georgia faces the public health emergency of COVID-19, it can be hard to be optimistic about our health and our futures. However, Georgians for a Healthy Future believes that our state can successfully overcome this tremendous challenge if Georgians adhere to the advice of public health experts and our state’s leaders swiftly adopt evidence-based policies that protect the health and safety of all Georgians. At the same time, Georgia leaders must look ahead to ways they can promote the health and well-being of all Georgians in the economically challenging months to come. Georgians for a Healthy Future has identified policy priorities that we believe are necessary for success in addressing the immediate public health emergency and the emerging economic consequences. These are the policies that we will fight for as we continue our fight for the health and wellness of all Georgians.

Our recommendations are shaped by feedback from GHF’s board of directors, partner advocacy organizations, local groups helping Georgians in their communities, and stories from Georgians just like you. You can share your COVID-19 experiences with GHF here. Thank you for your generous input.

As the status of this crisis changes and we gather more information, we will update these policy recommendations and continue to provide you with actionable information.


Health system capacity and public safety

GHF supports:

  • Statewide and local shelter-in-place orders and other aggressive social distancing practices to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus
  • Funding to quickly expand the capacity of Georgia’s Department of Public Health to test and monitor the spread of COVID-19
  • Funding to purchase personal protective equipment for health care workers
  • Funding to purchase equipment for patient care like ventilators and respirators
  • Maximizing the scope of practice for all qualified and licensed health care providers (e.g. physicians assistants, advanced practice registered nurses, registered nurses)
  • Expanding options and health coverage of telehealth and virtual visits in all medically appropriate circumstances

Access to quality, affordable health care for all Georgians

GHF supports:

  • Maximizing Medicaid flexibility and funding to increase access to care by:
    • Expanding Medicaid to all poor and near-poor Georgians (those making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line)
    • Taking advantage of emergency 1135 waivers to increase the number of providers who can see Georgians with Medicaid coverage
    • Adopting administrative changes to preserve coverage for current Medicaid members and to enroll Georgians who are already eligible but unenrolled, including the expansion of presumptive and retroactive eligibility and a halt on the annual renewal process
    • Expanding coverage of home- and community-based services and long-term services and supports
  • Expanding access and protections in comprehensive private health coverage
    • Promoting enrollment for people who qualify for private insurance, especially among those who are eligible for financial assistance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by:
      • Establishing a new Special Enrollment Period for people who wish to purchase health insurance now
      • Easing the enrollment and paperwork requirements for people enrolling in coverage due to job loss or income changes
      • Prohibiting health insurers from canceling a consumer’s coverage, even if they fall behind on premium payments
    • Eliminating cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing (and related tests) and treatment
    • Limiting the sale of plans that do not offer comprehensive benefits or follow the standards set by the ACA
    • Establishing comprehensive surprise billing protections
  • Promoting access to mental health services and substance use recovery supports for all Georgians
  • Easing limits on prescription drugs so that consumers can more easily access 90-day supplies of medications

Equity at the center of the response

This pandemic will hit some Georgia communities harder than others. All federal and state policy remedies should endure to offer the most help to those who are disadvantaged due to income, race or ethnicity, disability or health status, age, geography, and other factors. Georgia’s response must proactively address health equity concerns. Among other strategies, this should include disseminating public health messages that include information about affected groups and communities in languages and contexts they understand and directing additional funding to community health centers and other providers that serve disproportionately impacted communities.

Meeting the basic needs of Georgians and their families

As evidenced by yesterday’s job loss statistics, it is imperative that the public health response to the COVID-19 crisis be followed by an ambitious economic response. GHF supports policies that provide equitable opportunities for stability, dignity, and well-being for all Georgia families. While not an exhaustive list, these policies include:

  • Expanded access to Georgia’s unemployment insurance system, including 26 weeks of benefits and the easing of eligibility requirements and activities.
  • A moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, the provision of rental assistance and mortgage forbearance, and other supports that keep Georgians in their homes
  • Improved access to nutritious foods through SNAP, WIC, school system food programs, and other public programs
  • Universal paid family leave that allows workers regardless of income to take time off to care for themselves and their loved ones in times of sickness and crisis
  • A moratorium on utility shut offs, including internet access so that families can keep the lights on and children can continue to learn remotely

GHF will support partner organizations in their efforts to advocate for these policies and supports for Georgia families and individuals.


Some of these policies have been adopted or partially adopted by federal officials, Governor Kemp, and state agency officials. GHF thanks Georgia leaders for the actions they have already taken. In the coming weeks, GHF will track which policies are fully implemented, partially adopted, or not taken up at all, and will provide updates accordingly.

Thank you for your support and advocacy. We wish you health and safety!


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Legislative Update: Crossover & COVID-19 edition 2020

A statement from Georgians for a Healthy Future regarding COVID-19


Like many of you, our team is monitoring the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak closely. We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well during these uncertain times. 

We are grateful for the actions of Georgia leaders to protect the health and safety of individuals and communities across the state. We encourage all of you to help prevent the spread of the virus by staying home, avoiding group gatherings, washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and following the guidance of public health experts.

Unfortunately, this outbreak has exposed the many shortcomings of our nation’s health care system while reinforcing how important it is for all Georgians and people across the country to have access to health coverage and care. While our policymakers and health system leaders are acting quickly to expand Georgians’ pathways to testing, treatment, and care, many Georgians currently lack health care coverage or are at risk of losing it as a result of the virus. Georgia’s elected leaders should act immediately to close Georgia’s coverage gap and extend Medicaid coverage to all low-income Georgians. Closing the Medicaid coverage gap supports good health by ensuring that people confronting COVID-19 do not go untracked and untreated. This is one of several critical steps Georgia leaders should take to promote the health and economic security of all Georgians during this unprecedented health crisis.
 

We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and encourage state leadership to take effective action to provide access to health care for all Georgians. Thank you for your continued support.


Legislative Update: Week 9

Crossover Day brings action before suspension of legislative session

Last Thursday, March 12th was the 28th day of the Georgia legislative session, which is also referred to as Crossover Day. Crossover Day is the final day for a bill to cross from its chamber of origin to the opposite chamber to remain viable for this legislative session. The General Assembly finalized changes to the current state budget (FY2020) before suspending the legislative session on Friday, March 13th due to safety concerns about COVID-19. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston have committed to resuming the 2020 legislative session when public health concerns subside.
In the sections below, you will find a rundown of consumer health legislation and their statuses following Crossover Day. Those that “crossed over” remain viable and those that “did not cross over” are considered dead for this year. You can see a list of all the bills we’re tracking here

The General Assembly convened this morning for a one-day special session. They are expected to pass a resolution approving Governor Kemp’s declaration of a public health emergency. With this action, Governor Kemp will have additional power and authority to manage the state’s response to COVID-19.


Our priorities

Surprise billing legislation companion bills cross over

Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate last month to ban surprise out-of-network medical billing (also called surprise billing) in emergency and non-emergency situations. SB 359 and HB 888, sponsored by Senator Hufstetler and Representative Hawkins respectively, both contain strong consumer protections and set a fair payment resolution process that takes consumers out of fights between insurers and health care providers. Both bills have crossed over from their chambers of origin to the opposite chamber. 


Legislation to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage crosses over

HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. Currently, pregnant women covered by Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after their birth or miscarriage. Due to restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements for Georgia parents and because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults, many mothers who try to apply for Medicaid after the 60 days are ineligible and become uninsured. HB 1114 was approved by the House last Tuesday.


Crossover Day recap

HB 792: Amended FY 2020 Budget | SENT TO GOVERNOR
 

HB 792 makes adjustments to the state budget for the current fiscal year which runs through June 30, 2020. The “little budget” has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and has been sent to the Governor.
 



HB 793: FY 2021 Budget | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 793 is the budget document for the coming state fiscal year which will run from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. For more information on the health care highlights in the proposed FY 2021 budget, read the Community HealthBehavioral Health, and Public Health budget overviews from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. 



HB 511: Rural transit bill | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 511, sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner, would create a new division within the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that would, among other things, oversee rural transit programs including Medicaid’s non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services. The bill would divide the state (except for 13 metro-Atlanta counties) into eight regions in which counties could collaborate to raise revenue for and coordinate rural transit services. 
 



HB 544: Mental health emergency involuntary treatment | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, would make changes to how people in mental health or SUD crises can be committed to emergency involuntary treatment. This legislation could have negative consequences for people with substance use disorders who could be involuntarily committed to treatment under certain circumstances.
 


HB 719:  Effort to modernize HIV laws | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 719, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, would modernize Georgia’s HIV-related laws and make progress towards decriminalizing HIV. Current Georgia law deems it a felony for people living with HIV to have sex or donate blood without disclosing their status, or for spitting at or using bodily fluids on a law enforcement officer. Under HB 719 only the act of having sex without disclosing a person’s HIV status would remain illegal.
 


HB 731: | Tobacco tax increase | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

HB 731, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, would raise Georgia’s tobacco tax to $1.87 from its current level of $0.37.


HB 760: Mental health; peace officer authorization  | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 760, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would give peace officers the authority to take a person to a physician or emergency department for emergency examination under certain circumstances.


HB 842: Gracie’s Law – organ transplant discrimination| CROSSED OVER

HB 842, sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities.


HB 864: | Excise tax on vaping products | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 864, sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Rich would add a 7% excise tax to vaping products and would require businesses that sell vaping products to register with the state for a $250 fee. 



HB 918: Restricts onerous PBM audits of pharmacies | CROSSED OVER

HB 918, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, puts in place limits on the practices of PBMs within these audits so that pharmacies can more easily meet audit requests and the benefit of the doubt is given to pharmacies when small or innocuous mistakes are discovered.



HB 946: Increases accountability for PBMs | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 946, sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight, would increase fines on PBMs when they “steer” consumers to specific pharmacies and would prohibit PBMs from paying affiliated pharmacies more than independent ones. The bill would require PBMs to pass along rebates to insurers (who would presumably pass those savings on to consumers) and would ban programs called “co-pay accumulators.” Co-pay accumulators increase out-of-pocket costs for consumers who need prescription drugs, especially those with expensive medications and those with high deductibles and other cost-sharing.



HB 947: Examining the costs of PBMs in Medicaid | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 947, sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight, would require Georgia’s Department of Community Health to complete an independent study to find out if Georgia would save money by removing the current PBM structure from its Medicaid plans. If the estimated savings are more than $20 million annually, Georgia would eliminate PBMs from most of the state’s Medicaid plans.


HB 1079: Authorizes full Medicaid expansion through an 1115 waiver  | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 1079, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would allow the state to submit a new 1115 waiver that would expand Medicaid to all Georgians making less than 138% of the federal poverty line.


HB 1114: Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage | CROSSED OVER
 

HB 1114, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. Currently, pregnant women covered by Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after their birth or miscarriage. Due to restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements for Georgia parents and because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults, many mothers who try to apply for Medicaid after the 60 days are ineligible and become uninsured.
 


HB 1151: Network adequacy | DID NOT CROSS OVER

HB 1151, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would increase consumer access to health care by imposing quantitative standards on insurance companies’ provider networks. Georgia has the narrowest provider networks in the country, forcing people to pay more to find care outside of their insurance plan’s approved providers. Network adequacy standards would ensure that consumers can access a provider in their insurance  network for all covered benefits.


HB 1153: Short-term limited duration plans | DID NOT CROSS OVER


HB 1153, sponsored by Rep. Kim Schofield, would limit short-term health plans to 3 months and provide consumer protections like protections for people with pre-existing conditions.


HR 1280: Addressing childhood lead exposure | DID NOT CROSS OVER
 

HR 1280, introduced by Rep. Katie Dempsey, establishes a Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure to address the issue of thousands of Georgia children under six years of age who were found to have lead poisoning, which is irreversible and can cause speech, language, and behavioral problems, lower IQ levels, and nervous system damage.

*Note: Because this is a resolution (rather than a bill), this resolution is still viable for passage and could be used to establish a House study committee.


SB 298: Raising age to purchase tobacco and vaping products| DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 298, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, would increase the age at which Georgians are allowed to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 years of age, among other things. 


SB 303: Georgia Right to Shop Act | CROSSED OVER

SB 303, sponsored by Senator Ben Watson, Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services committee, would require that health insurers to put on their website an interactive feature that allows consumers to estimate their out of pocket costs for a particular health care service and compare quality metrics between providers, among other things. Insurers would also have to provide a phone number that consumers can call to get the same information. 



SB 313: Benchmarking for prescription drug prices | CROSSED OVER
 

SB 313, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, had its second hearing in the Senate Insurance and Labor committee last Wednesday. This bill would update Georgia’s oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and add important consumer protections.



SB 348: Consumer Right to Access Act | DID NOT CROSS OVER

SB 348, sponsored by Senator Kirkpatrick, is aimed at addressing network adequacy. The bill includes similar language to SB 352 (below) and also directs Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner to set quantitative network adequacy standards to ensure Georgia consumers have adequate access to care within their insurance plans.


SB 352: Online provider directories | CROSSED OVER

SB 352, sponsored by Senator Burke, would allow consumers to see providers at in-network rates for their entire plan year, if the provider is listed as in-network at the time a person enrolls in their health plan. The providers included in a consumer’s insurance plan network changes regularly throughout the year and this bill would assure that the provider network advertised at the time of enrollment is the provider network they are able to access all year long.


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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A statement from Georgians for a Healthy Future regarding COVID-19

Like many of you, our team is monitoring the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak closely. We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and well during these uncertain times.

We are grateful for the actions of Georgia leaders to protect the health and safety of individuals and communities across the state. We encourage all of you to help prevent the spread of the virus by staying home, avoiding group gatherings, washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and following the guidance of public health experts.

Unfortunately, this outbreak has exposed the many shortcomings of our nation’s health care system while reinforcing how important it is for all Georgians and people across the country to have access to health coverage and care. While our policymakers and health system leaders are acting quickly to expand Georgians’ pathways to testing, treatment, and care, many Georgians currently lack health care coverage or are at risk of losing it as a result of the virus. Georgia’s elected leaders should act immediately to close Georgia’s coverage gap and extend Medicaid coverage to all low-income Georgians. Closing the Medicaid coverage gap supports good health by ensuring that people confronting COVID-19 do not go untracked and untreated. This is one of several critical steps Georgia leaders should take to promote the health and economic security of all Georgians during this unprecedented health crisis.

We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and encourage state leadership to take effective action to provide access to health care for all Georgians. Thank you for your continued support.


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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, healthy housing, HIV treatment and prevention bills move forward

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

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

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

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


 

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

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


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

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


What happened last week
Recess legislation passes in Senate committee

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


Healthy housing legislation makes progress in Senate

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


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

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


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GHF testifies on Patients First Act (SB 106)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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: 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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Legislative Update: Week 4

Momentum builds to close Georgia’s coverage gap

The 2019 legislative session is now in full swing and the past few weeks have brought the introduction of two bills that would close Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid.

HB 37: Expand Medicaid Now Act; enact and SB 36 are sponsored by Representative Bob Trammell and Senator Steve Henson respectively. Each bill 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.

In addition, Governor Kemp has announced that his office will seek an 1115 Medicaid waiver. An 1115 waiver provides states with the ability to experiment with or tailor their Medicaid programs. Governor Kemp has not released details of the waiver, so its impact on consumers is uncertain. The waiver could close Georgia’s coverage gap, among other changes to Medicaid coverage. Legislation to allow Georgia’s Medicaid agency to seek an 1115 waiver is expected to be introduced soon by Senate Republicans.

Tell Governor Kemp and your legislators that you support putting a health insurance cards in the pockets of Georgians regardless of their income.


Consumer protection bills introduced

Surprise medical billing emerges as a prominent issue

Surprise out‑of‑network medical billing is once again emerging as a prominent issue within the Georgia General Assembly. A surprise medical bill can occur when a consumer encounters an out-of-network (OON) provider at an in-network facility or in other circumstances. Two pieces of legislation have been introduced to address surprise billing and each attempts to resolve the issue in its own way.

HB 84: Insurance; provide for consumer protections regarding health insurance
Rep. Richard Smith, Chair of the House Insurance Committee, introduced HB 84 to increase transparency related to possible surprise medical bills. This bill sets disclosure requirements for health care providers, insurers, and hospitals. The legislation requires that information on billing, reimbursement, and arbitration of services must be provided to the consumer at their request. The bill also allows for an arbitration process between the consumer and the health care provider, the specifics of which would be determined by Georgia’s Department of Insurance. This bill currently sits in the House Insurance Committee and is in House second readers.

SB 56: Consumer Coverage and Protection for Out-of-Network Medical Care Act
Senator Chuck Hufstetler, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced SB 56 to address surprise out-of-network billing. This legislation disallows surprise billing in emergency situations under insurance plans issued after July 1, 2019. The bill contains similar transparency provisions to HB 84. For consumers who receive elective medical care after which they receive a surprise bill greater than $1000, the legislation makes available a mediation process through the Department of Insurance. This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.


Legislative calendar set
Legislature plans to finish work by April 2nd

The schedule for the remainder of the legislative session has been set in HR 152. Crossover Day, the day that legislation must move from one chamber to the other in order to be considered in 2019, will fall on March 7th. The remaining sixteen legislative days will be broken up throughout March, culminating on Sine Die, the last day of the session, on April 2nd. The full calendar can be viewed here.


RSVP for Cover Georgia Day
Join us 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 low-income Georgians. This is the most important step that our elected officials can take to slow the growing opioid crisis, strengthen our state’s struggling rural health care system, and improve the health & finances of hardworking Georgia families. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk with your elected officials about closing Georgia’s coverage gap! 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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