"These gaps really make it so that Georgians can't afford needed health care. If they receive health care, they're left with medical debt, or they have to make really tough…
We commend the Department of Community Health for taking a population-based approach to improving the health of Georgia’s Medicaid members. We are especially encouraged by the Department’s commitment to engaging with the care management organizations (CMOs) to monitor and improve racial health disparities among Medicaid members. This commitment is a strong first step, and we believe DCH could go even farther to address and improve health disparities in these three ways:
Planning for Healthy Babies
Planning for Healthy Babies (P4HB) is an important program to improve maternal and infant outcomes and address health disparities, but it serves only a small population of women in Georgia. One of the reasons P4HB is so successful is the targeted outreach efforts to women in areas with poor infant health outcomes. DCH should take a similar approach for all Medicaid eligible populations. By focusing CMO and DCH outreach efforts on areas of the state with poor health outcomes and high Medicaid-eligible populations, they may be able to make a similar impact on health disparities for a larger population.
Meaningful engagement with Medicaid members
To successfully reduce health disparities, we advise DCH and the CMOs to work closely and meaningfully with Medicaid members and community members from the populations experiencing the greatest health burdens to craft impactful strategies tailored to a specific group. There are great opportunities to close racial health gaps among Georgia’s Black & Hispanic communities especially. Georgia has the 2nd largest Black/African American population in the U.S.(The Office of Minority Health, 2021), and 15% of Black Georgians are uninsured (KFF, 2020). Georgia also has the 9th largest Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S., and 47% of Georgia Hispanics are uninsured (The Office of Minority Health, 2021). Black and Hispanic Georgians suffer from chronic and infectious diseases, including COVID-19, at rates higher than those of white Georgians CDC, 2021) and have shorter life expectancies ( The Office of Minority Health, 2021).
Unique barriers (including language, systemic inequities to build wealth, available pathways to coverage, immigration status, social discrimination, and more) block these groups from equitable health status and outcomes. These complex and long-standing barriers to health can only be overcome with meaningful, sustained engagement with members of these and similar groups. Based on GHF’s observations, the infrastructure that DCH and CMOs have for engaging members falls short of what is needed. (GHF humbly offers its assistance to all interested parties re-thinking engagement strategies and programs.)
Beyond language and cultural competency
The Quality Strategy points to translation and language services and cultural competency as strategies to reduce health disparities. These are important components, but they are not sufficient on their own. We encourage DCH to explore additional interventions that better address the root causes of disparities. These interventions could include maximizing the roles of the state’s community health workers (CHWs) and peer support coaches; and incentivizing CMOs to operate robust wrap-around service programs to address housing, food, transportation, and economic needs of members. Numerous studies have shown that CHWs and peer support coaches can play meaningful roles in improving health outcomes, lowering health spending, and reducing health disparities (Chan, 2021).
Another solution to reducing health disparities is to ensure every Georgian has a pathway to health coverage. Medicaid expansion would go farther than the proposed Pathways 1115 waiver towards accomplishing this. Several studies have shown that full expansion of
Medicaid (up to 138% FPL) narrowed disparities in health outcomes for Black and Hispanic individuals, particularly related to infant and maternal health (KFF, 2020). While this decision does not lay with the Department of Community Health, your leaders and staff are trusted and important messengers to state lawmakers about how such a move could improve the health of Georgians.
We were encouraged to see the Quality Strategy call out behavioral health as an area of focus. Data before and during the pandemic supports that behavioral health needs are growing across the population, and there is no doubt that this holds true for Medicaid members.
However, the measures for Goal 1.5 predominantly address mental health (increase screening for depression among adults and adolescents), while largely ignoring substance use. We know that youth substance use is a risk factor for other issues, including school absenteeism, depression, and committing acts of violence. Data show that Georgia youth are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at younger ages (SAMSA, 2019). Therefore, DCH could significantly impact the behavioral health outcomes of young members by adding measures related to substance use screenings and referral to treatment services. To increase screening for substance-use disorders among youth, DCH could leverage CHIP funds for Health Service Initiatives. Utilizing these funds would provide sustainable funding for school-based or population-based services to address substance use.
Access to care via telemedicine
The increased utilization of telemedicine during COVID-19 has proven it is an important method of care for Georgia consumers, including Medicaid members. For that reason, we are pleased to see it identified in the Quality Strategy. However, telemedicine cannot overcome all access challenges because many Medicaid members live in areas with limited internet connectivity, especially those who live in communities of color and rural communities. We encourage DCH to look for additional methods to increase access to care, including addressing transportation gaps.
Notably, the Quality Strategy does not mention the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation benefit for Medicaid enrollees. In our experience, many enrollees do not know about the NEMT benefit and therefore do not make use of it. Additionally, at times NEMT is unreliable and unprepared to meet members’ transportation needs (i.e., sending a regular van to pick up a member who needs a wheelchair-ready van or sending transportation that cannot accommodate a child’s sibling). DCH could increase access to care by promoting the benefit to more beneficiaries and investing in improvements to the program.
Measurement, evaluation, and enforcement
GHF applauds the strong evaluation and enforcement measures included in the Quality Strategy. The inclusion of the value-based purchasing program in the GF 360º program and the intermediate sanctions policy offer strong accountability measures for Georgia’s CMOs.
We were further pleased to see multiple measures of network adequacy, including appointment availability, incorporated into the Quality Strategy. GHF views appointment availability and travel time/distance as perhaps the most accurate measures of network adequacy in terms of increasing access to care. We encourage DCH to hold these measures above other measures like provider member ratios. To meaningfully ensure network adequacy for Medicaid members, we encourage DCH to adopt more robust enforcement measures for these requirements. Specifically, DCH could leverage intermediate sanctions against CMOs with provider directories that are out-of-date or otherwise inaccurate. Requiring CMOs to maintain up-to-date and accurate provider directories will help ensure Medicaid enrollees can receive timely care and avoid costs associated with unknowingly utilizing out-of-network providers.
Having access to transportation is crucial to having access to health care. Each year millions of Americans miss or delay health care because they do not have a way to get there.
Medicaid’s non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) program helps bridge the gap between home and the doctor’s office for individuals who are covered by Medicaid. In 2018, 396,000 Georgians got to their health visits using the free NEMT benefit.
In partnership with The Arc Georgia and the Georgians in the Driver’s Seat initiative, Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) staff have spoken with consumers around the state about their transportation needs and the NEMT program.(more…)
Ramatu lives in Gwinnett County with her four children for whom Medicaid helps to meet their unique health needs. Medicaid provides a lifeline for Ramatu’s family and helps ensure that her children receive the health care they need. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 54% of Georgia children with special health care needs are covered by Medicaid.
“Two of my kids are on straight Medicaid because of the severity of their disability. The other two, they are on what is called care services.” –Ramatu(more…)
Legislative Update: Week 5
Legislative session resumes this week
After a brief pause last week due to budget disagreements the Georgia legislature will resume its normal schedule today, February 18th. Today is day 13 (out of 40) 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.
Surprise billing legislation set for committee vote
Senate and House action expected on surprise billing legislation this week
Last month, companion pieces of 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 resolution process that allows insurers and health care providers to settle payment disputes while keeping consumers out of the middle.
The Senate Health and Human Services committee heard testimony from insurers, advocates, and medical providers at a hearing on SB 359 last Tuesday. GHF’s Executive Director testified on the bill saying, “the consumer protections in this bill are fair and reasonable. For these reasons, we support (SB 359) and hope to see its successful passage by both chambers during this session.”
HB 888 is scheduled to be heard in the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care today at 2pm.
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,
- 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!
Prescription drug legislation heard by senate committee
SB 313: Pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen for prescription drugs
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. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health insurance companies and in that role are charged with negotiating lower costs for the company and consumers.
At Wednesday’s hearing, patients, doctors, pharmacists and representatives of pharmacy benefit managers offered detailed testimony on the bill. No further action was taken on the bill last week and it is unclear if the Senate Insurance committee will consider it again this week. GHF will continue to report on the bill through the legislative session. (We provided an overview of the bill in an earlier legislative update.)
Rural transit bill could bring changes to Medicaid transportation
Revisions to transit bill attract support from more stakeholders
Adequate transportation is important to the health of Georgians because in most cases people need to go to a location outside of their homes to receive health care. Without access to reliable, safe transportation, Georgians may be forced to skip health appointments and go without medication, or they may not be able to access other things (like healthy foods or good schools and jobs) that would help them stay healthy.
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. The purpose of the proposed “mobility zones” is to eliminate restrictions on crossing county lines for health appointments and other services for seniors, low-income families, and other needy Georgians, and extend transportation services to those who do not have access to local transportation options.
Advocates for Georgia seniors supported earlier versions of the bill and recent revisions to the bill have earned the support of GDOT and Uber. HB 511 has not been scheduled for a hearing but GHF will report on the legislation as the session progresses.
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.
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.