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

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

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


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

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a new Coronavirus Self-Checkermay be a helpful tool if you think you are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

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

What to expect from your health insurance

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

If you have Medicaid

Medicaid provides all “medically-necessary” services to its members. If you meet the eligibility requirements for a COVID-19 test, your Medicaid coverage should cover the cost of the test. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and require medical treatment, Medicaid should also cover those costs. 

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

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

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

If you have private insurance

If you have insurance through an employer, the State Health Benefit Plan, or the Affordable Care Act marketplace (also called healthcare.gov), use it for any testing or medical exams related to COVID-19. Laboratory tests are an essential health benefit through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so your health insurance plan should pick up some or all of the costs of a COVID-19 test. 

At the request of federal officials and Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner, some insurance companies are offering to waive co-pays, deductibles, and other cost-sharing for the viral tests. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and require medical treatment, you should expect to pay some out-of-pocket costs like your deductible. (We will update this section if Congress or Georgia leaders mandate that insurers waiver all out of pocket costs for treatment.)

If you purchased coverage outside of the ACA marketplace or you have a short-term plan or health-sharing ministry, call your insurance company to find out how they are covering COVID-19 testing and treatment.

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

If you have Medicare

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

If you are uninsured

If you are uninsured, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, has previously stated that there will not be any cost to get tested for COVID-19. If you need other health care services, find a local community clinic or apply for financial assistance through a hospital charity care program. Georgians should not let their insurance status get in the way of getting needed testing or treatment.

If you lose your job

Many Georgians in the hospitality, food service, and retail sectors are finding themselves without a job and at risk of losing their coverage. If this is your situation, you can keep yourself and your family covered during this health crisis. You may be eligible to apply for a Special Enrollment Period up to 60 days after losing your job. Coverage through the ACA marketplace (healthcare.gov) should cover testing for COVID-19 because laboratory testing is one of the ACA’s essential health benefits. If you are unable to enroll in a health insurance plan you may have other options through services such as a community clinic, which can connect you with the care you need.


Resources for you and your loved ones

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


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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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Legislative Update: More Medicaid for new moms, big & little budgets, and Crossover Day deadlines

Legislative Update: Week 8

General Assembly continues work on budgets ahead of Crossover Day

Last week the Senate passed their version of the FY2020 state budget (the “little budget”). This week the House and Senate will appoint a conference committee to work out the remaining differences in their versions of the little budget before it gets a final approval by both chambers. This morning the House Appropriations committee has passed its version of the FY2021 budget, which will begin July 1st of this year and run through June 30, 2021. The big budget will be considered by the full House chamber later this week.

Committee hearings will continue in earnest as legislators try to move their priority bills ahead of this week’s Crossover Day deadline. (Crossover Day is the 28th day of session and the deadline by which bills must pass the House or the Senate in order to remain viable to become law.) In next week’s legislative update, we will run down which health bills were left on the cutting room floor and which ones remain viable for this year.


Bill introduced to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage

Legislation would allow moms to keep Medicaid coverage up to six months after giving birth

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. The bill has been referred to the House Health & Human Services committee and has the support of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, GHF, and other consumer health advocacy groups.

Learn more about this legislation and maternal health in Georgia in a new blog from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.


Surprise billing and Gracie’s Law approved

Surprise billing protections are another step closer to passage

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. Last week the House passed its version of this important consumer-focused legislation, HB 888. The Senate has already approved SB 359, which closely mirrors the House bill. The Senate bill is expected to be amended in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care so that it exactly matches the House version and better protects against surprise bills in emergency situations. Both bills are expected to be considered up by their respective committees after Crossover Day.


Gracie’s Law moves on to Senate

Gracie’s Law (HB 842), sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams, would protect people with disabilities from being removed from organ donor waiting lists because of their disabilities. Gracie’s Law was approved by the House on February 28th and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill is supported by The Arc of Georgia, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and other disability advocacy organizations.

(For more on this bill, please read our earlier legislative update.)


Pharmacy benefit manager legislation keeps moving

Four bills to reform PBM practices in Georgia move forward ahead of Crossover Day

Georgia’s House and Senate continued their efforts last week to change how pharmacy benefit managers operate in Georgia. Pharmacy benefit managers (commonly called PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies. 

HB 946 and HB 947, both sponsored by Rep. Matt Knight and HB 918, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, were passed by the House on Wednesday. HB 946 was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor committee, and HB 918 and HB 947 were referred to the Senate Health and Human Services committee. Similarly, SB 313sponsored by Senator Dean Burke, was approved by the Senate on Thursday.

(For an overview of the bills, please read our March 2nd 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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Legislative Update: Surprise billing, mental health, & Gracie’s law

Legislative Update: Week 4

Legislative session paused amid budget disagreements

The Georgia legislature voted to pause the official legislative calendar last week due to the difficult and sometimes contentious discussions over the state budget. Governor Kemp’s proposed budget cuts for the current and subsequent state budgets have left the legislature to the difficult tasks of finding savings where possible, making cuts to some services and programs, and debating how to bring in sufficient revenue. Speaker of the House David Ralston has instructed the House to hold only budget-related hearings this week. 

The legislature plans to officially reconvene next Tuesday, February 18th for day 13 of this year’s legislative session. According to the legislature’s new calendar, Crossover Day (the day by which a bill has to be approved by at least one chamber in order to remain “alive” for this year) is scheduled for March 12th.

Strong surprise billing legislation introduced

Surprise billing legislation would protect consumers in emergency & non-emergency situations

Last week companion legislation were introduced in the House and Senate 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. If passed, these bills would protect 2.6 million Georgians from surprise medical bills.

SB 359 has been read and reffered to the Senate Health and Human Services committee. HB 888 is in House first readers and in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care.

Call one or more of these committee leaders to ask for their support of SB 359 and HB 888: 

  • Sen. Ben Watson, Chairman of Senate HHS committee,
    404-656-7880
  • Sen. Dean Burke, Vice Chairman of Senate HHS committee, 404-656-0040
  • Rep. Mark Newton, Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-0254
  • Rep. Sharon Cooper, Vice Chairman of the House Special Committee, 404-656-5069

If your state Senator or Representative is on either committee, please call them as well!

House examines mental health and organ transplant issues

Involuntary commitment emerges as theme in mental health legisation

Two pieces of mental health legislation garnered attention from mental health advocates and legislators last week.

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. This bill sits in the House Judiciary committee but the discussions of this issue may instead be moved to a subcommittee of the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission.

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. This legislation is not supported by mental health advocacy groups because it could lead to involuntary committal for people with mental health issues. The bill now sits in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security committee.

Gracie’s Law would protect organ transplant discrimination for Georgians with disabilities

Rep. Rick Williams has introduced HB 842, titled “Gracie’s Law.” According to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), Gracie’s Law would protect patients with disabilities from being removed from the organ donor waiting list because of their disability. According to an article in GCDD’s Making a Difference magazine, “While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) denies discrimination based on any disability, there is still a lack of federal enforcement,” prompting the need for state action on this issue. This bill has been referred to the House Insurance committee. You can read more about Gracie’s Law here (pg. 12-13).

Thank you!

Cover Georgia logo

Health care heroes like you submitted 1,710 comments!

Before the legislative session began, Governor Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. When health officials needed your input on the Medicaid plan, more than 1700 Georgians like you stepped up! 
 

We are incredibly grateful for your advocacy on behalf of Georgians and communities who would benefit from Medicaid expansion in Georgia. Thank you for speaking up for your friends, neighbors, and all Georgians! Now your comments become part of a powerful legal record that health officials must take into acocunt as they decide whether or not to approve Governor Kemp’s Medicaid plan.

Stay tuned! Health officials are still reviewing Governor Kemp’s planned changes for private insurance. When the time comes, we will ask you to speak up again by submitting a comment again! Here and at coverga.org, we will let you know what those changes mean for you and your loved ones and when you can comment.

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: Surprise billing, vaping, & Georgia’s budget

Legislative Update: Week 1

The 2020 legislative session has begun

Last week, the Georgia General Assembly convened for the first time in 2020. The first four days of the 2020 legislative session were mostly taken up with committee appointments, Governor Kemp’s second State of the State address, and other annual traditions including GHF’s own Health Care Unscrambled

This week will be dedicated primarily to budget hearings for the current (FY 2020 Amended) and next year’s (FY 2021) state budgets. The General Assembly will reconvene next Monday, January 27th for the fifth day of legislative session. 


Efforts to address surprise billing gain early momentum

The issue of surprise out-of-network medical billing (sometimes called “surprise billing” or “balance billing”) is already getting a lot of attention early in the 2020 session. At Health Care Unscrambled, Senate Health & Human Services Chairman Ben Watson said, “If we do not pass balanced billing or surprised billing this year, I don’t think it will be a successful session.” Governor Kemp added his support during his State of the State address, saying “Working with patients, providers, and the private sector, we’ll craft a legislative remedy to reduce surprise medical billing. We will demand transparency, embrace empathy, and insist on fairness.” 

GHF and our partners at Georgia Watch have long advocated for a legislative solution that protects Georgia consumers from payment battles between insurers and providers. We are grateful for the support of Governor Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Duncan, and legislative leaders on this important issue. We look forward to working with all parties to ensure that Georgia consumers are no longer stuck with surprise bills when they go to the doctor.


Governor outlines priorities in annual address

Governor Kemp submits his budget recommendations

On Thursday, Governor Kemp addressed the General Assembly in his second annual State of the State address and, per tradition, used the opportunity to introduce his proposed budget. Governor Kemp also laid out his priorities for his second year in office, including education, foster care, and public safety.

The amended budget (an update to the current state budget) includes a 4% cut to cut state spending through the end of the state fiscal year (June 30, 2020).

The Governor’s recommended FY 2021 budget, which will begin on July 1, 2020, includes a 6% cut to state spending. Despite the cut, a $89.6 million increase in the Medicaid budget is proposed to address growing enrollment. The House will now take up and consider the two budgets before passing them to the Senate later in the session.


Action Alert!

Act now, submit your comment today!

Before the legislative session began, Gov. Kemp filed paperwork with health officials in the federal government to move forward with their plans to change Medicaid and private insurance in Georgia. Now those health officials must ask for your input, beginning with the Medicaid plan! 
 

Gov. Kemp’s Medicaid plan will leave thousands of low-income Georgians with no meaningful pathway to coverage. We need you to step up AGAIN and become a health care hero by telling health officials what you think of the Medicaid plan! The deadline for comment is Friday, February 7th. Visit CoverGA.org to comment today! 

Did you submit a comment in November? Please submit a comment again so federal officials can hear directly from you.


Early legislation introduced

Legislation to restrict vaping

SB 298 would raise the minimum age to purchase vaping products from the current age of 18 to 21. It would also set tougher penalties for selling tobacco, nicotine and vaping products to minors and would require schools to include information about the harms of vaping and smoking in their health education curricula. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Renee Unterman. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the House in the coming weeks. The bill has been referred to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.


The legislative calendar begins to take shape

The General Assembly set its calendar for the first fourteen days of the 2020 legislative session in HR 879. After this week’s budget hearings, the session will pick up again according to the following schedule:

January 27: Day 5

January 28: Day 6

January 29: Day 7

February 30: Day 8

February 31: Day 9

February 3: Day 10

February 4: Day 11

February 5: Day 12

February 6: Day 13

February 10: Day 14


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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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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Georgians in the Driver’s Seat wants to hear from you

Since launching our Georgians in the Driver’s Seat initiative with The Arc Georgia, GHF staff have spoken with consumers around the state about their transportation needs as they relate to health. During one of those opportunities, GHF met Tannyetta and her four-month-old daughter Ayla at Atlanta’s CAPN Clinic.

Tanyetta enrolled in Medicaid while she was pregnant and both she and Ayla have Medicaid coverage now. In order to get back and forth from health appointments Tanyetta uses a free transportation service through Medicaid. This benefit, available to Medicaid-covered Georgians who do not have their own transportation, is called non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). Transportation is provided in the form of pre-loaded public transit cards, van transport, rides with ride-share companies, and in other ways depending on the needs of the individual. Tanyetta does not have her own transportation but is able to get to medical appointments safely because of NEMT.

Much like Tanyetta, Georgians around the state are able to see health providers because they can use NEMT if they do not have another way to travel. For almost 400,000 Georgians each year, the service works well. However, there are times when it falls short of its promise. Patients and families are picked up late going to or from an appointment. In the worst cases, they are never picked up at all. People who use wheelchairs are picked up by vans that cannot accommodate their chairs. Parents who need to take one child to see the doctor are blocked from bringing their sibling, forcing them to find alternative and expensive childcare.

The people for whom NEMT is breaking down are often those who need it the most: patients with complex care needs. These riders are children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, seniors who would otherwise have to live in nursing homes, and people with multiple chronic conditions. Almost four million NEMT rides are provided to Medicaid-covered Georgians each year. Riders use an average of nine trips per year, demonstrating that those who use the service visit the doctor frequently and rely heavily on NEMT to get them there. When NEMT falls short for these riders, the consequences can be serious, so it is imperative the system works well all of the time.  

In order to improve Georgia’s NEMT services (so that they work all of the time, every time!), we need to hear from the people who use it. You can help! Fill out this rider survey, if you use transportation services to get to health appointments. If you are a caregiver or otherwise help people arrange for NEMT rides, we want to hear from you too.

If you do not fit into one of those categories, share the survey with someone who does! Ask your patients, your social media network, and others to fill out the survey if they have used Medicaid’s transportation services. The survey is available at this link and is open through December 09, 2019: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MedicaidTransport.

Have a story about transportation and health that you want to share? Tell us about it! We’ll get in touch with you soon to learn more.


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Aging with dignity: Georgia seniors need Medicaid

Sherry is 77 years old and lives independently in Murray County in north Georgia. She gets up five days a week at 5 am and prepares for her day, which begins with a bus ride to the RossWoods Adult Day Center. Medicaid and Medicare make it possible to spend her weekdays at RossWoods where she engages in arts and crafts and social activities designed to keep her brain and body healthy. She also receives information about her medications and doctor’s appointments. Sherry is one of over half a million seniors and people with disabilities in Georgia who depend on Medicaid and Medicare to live and function in their communities.

Sherry has several health conditions including high blood pressure, a blood clot in her heart, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, a pacemaker, and arthritis in one of her legs. On top of all that, she recently fell and broke her wrist, causing nerve damage. Thanks to Medicaid, Sherry is able to afford the medications she needs to live a functional and healthy life. She would not have the financial means to pay the standard $30–$50 copay for each of her seven medications but Medicaid means she pays just $1.20 per medication instead.

To get to the pharmacy for her medications, doctors’ appointments and RossWoods, a type of Medicaid called the Community Care Services Program (CCSP) waiver provides Sherry with transportation. CCSP waivers provide “community-based social, health and support services to eligible consumers as an alternative to placement in a nursing home.” When asked about her Medicaid coverage, Sherry said: “I couldn’t make it if I didn’t have [Medicaid]. There would be no way.”

For 168,000 seniors like Sherry who typically live on low, fixed incomes, Medicaid makes the difference and helps to pay the costs of their Medicare coverage. For some, it provides additional health benefits not covered through Medicare. For others, Medicaid allows them to age with dignity in their communities by covering needed home and living adaptations like chair lifts, wheelchair ramps, or engaging day programs with trained staff.


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