Laura Colbert, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said Monday that health care spending growth has been squeezing patients. “We hear from consumers that…
This year’s program began with a personal story from consumer Lori Murdock, who bravely shared her experience struggling to manage a chronic disease without health insurance because she was caught in Georgia’s coverage gap. Lori’s experience illustrates the pressing need to provide health insurance to all Georgians regardless of income.
Following Lori was our bipartisan legislative panel. This year’s legislative panelists were:
Each panelist provided updates on emerging health care trends impacting Georgia and took questions from the audience about what health issues are likely to be taken up in the 2019 legislative session. Topics included Medicaid expansion, surprise out of network medical billing, access to mental health, network adequacy, Certificate of Need reform, social determinants of health, rural health care access, federal health care reform, and affordability of health care. All three panelists shared an optimistic vision for health care in this years legislative session.
This year’s key note speaker was Dr. David Blumenthal, President of the Commonwealth Fund. Dr. Blumenthal brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to our conversation about how innovations in health care and coverage can help us achieve better health outcomes for all Georgians. He led the discussion by comparing Georgia’s health outcomes to those of our neighboring states, and then provided an agenda for improvement. He emphasized that Georgia is unlikely to overcome poor health outcomes unless state leadership improves insurance coverage, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Fund’s own research on Medicaid expansion’s impacts on population health. Dr. Blumenthal also shared the importance of investments in the social determinants of health for improving health outcomes and ultimately saving money. Dr. Blumenthal’s presentation can be accessed here and the Georgia scorecard from the Commonwealth Fund can be found here.
To see photos, review materials, and get more information about this year’s Health Care Unscrambled event, please visit the event page.
For more event pictures visit our Facebook photo album.
Last week, Virginia became the latest state to expand health care coverage to low-income adults when the Virginia legislature voted to close the its coverage gap and Governor Northam signed the new budget. More than 400,000 Virginians are expected to gain coverage as a result, and the state anticipates declines in uncompensated care costs for hospitals, an increase in people receiving needed health services, and greater financial security for those set to gain coverage. The vote comes after years of advocacy and engagement from constituents and advocates who worked to convey to legislators the importance of health coverage and the impact the change would have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Unlike Virginians, 240,000 hard-working Georgians cannot yet look forward to putting a health insurance card in their pockets. These friends and neighbors make too little to get financial help to buy health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid in Georgia, leaving them stuck in the state’s coverage gap.
Georgia remains one of 17 states that is still refusing billions in federal health care dollars to provide health coverage to low-income adults in the state. As in Virginia, Georgia’s Governor and state legislature can choose to close the coverage gap at any time, and here are five reasons they should do so as soon as possible:
- Thousands of Georgians would gain health coverage–240,000 Georgians would gain the peace of mind, access to care, and financial protection that insured Georgians have. These Georgians make less than $12,140 a year or $20,780 for a family of three. Most are working in sectors like retail, child care, construction, and food service, low-paying jobs that do not come with benefits.
- Georgia’s rural hospitals are economic anchor institutions–rural communities need their hospitals to provide accessible healthcare, sustain well-paid jobs, and facilitate economic stability. Closing the coverage gap would create at least 12,000 new jobs and $1.3 billion in new activity in Georgia’s rural communities each year.
- The resulting job growth is greater than what the state would gain by attracting Amazon’s HQ2–extending health coverage to more Georgians would create 56,000 new jobs across the state, more than the 50,000 jobs that Amazon is promising at its second headquarters. Even better, the new jobs would be scattered across the state rather than concentrated in and around Atlanta.
- Georgia’s tax dollars are currently sitting unused in Washington, D.C.–By refusing to extend health insurance to low-income Georgians, the state is missing out on $8 million per day ($3 billion dollars per year). Instead of giving up hard-earned tax dollars, Georgia’s policy makers could bring that money back to the state to help low-income parents, veterans, and workers put health insurance cards in their wallets.
- It is the biggest step Georgia can take to slow the substance use crisis —One quarter (25%) of Georgians who fall in the coverage gap are estimated to have a mental illness or substance use disorder. If they were covered by health insurance, treatment and recovery services would be within reach, allowing them to resume full, healthy lives. As a result, 36,000 fewer Georgians each year would experience symptoms of depression and the state could make significant progress in addressing its ongoing substance use crisis.
After five years of delay, Virginia’s leaders made the right decision and as a result, 400,000 Virginians will see healthier futures. Now is the time for Georgia’s decision makers to follow suite by putting 240,000 insurance cards in wallets all across the state.
Virginia State Capitol Image – Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin attended the summer meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) last week in San Diego in her capacity as a consumer representative to the NAIC. Cindy presented information on the enactment of health insurance provider directory improvement legislation in Georgia (SB 302) as part of a panel of consumer representatives discussing how the NAIC network adequacy model act is being taken up in the states. Also presenting were Claire McAndrew of Families USA, who provided a bird’s eye view of activity across the nation on network adequacy, and consumer representatives from Colorado and Maryland. This discussion was part of the Consumer Liaison meeting, which provides a forum for consumer representatives to interface with state insurance regulators from across the country.
Also at the summer meeting, the consumer representatives released a new policy paper on prescription drug access and affordability. The report, Promoting Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs: Policy Analysis and Consumer Recommendations for State Policymakers, Consumer Advocates, and Health Care Stakeholders, provides a series of recommendations to assist regulators, lawmakers, and the NAIC on ways to promote access, affordability, nondiscrimination, transparency, and meaningful oversight of prescription drug coverage. The report includes examples of existing state and federal approaches to addressing these issues as well as recommendations for consumer-protective policies to be considered by state and federal policymakers. The report was made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Provider directories, or the listing of health care providers that are participating in a particular health plan, are intended to inform patients and consumers about which doctors are in their plan and how they can contact them to set up an appointment. For these directories to serve as the tool that consumers need, they must be accurate and up-to-date. A secret shopper survey conducted by the statewide consumer health advocacy organization Georgians for a Healthy Future, however, found these directories to be error-ridden, a problem that places consumers at risk when they seek to access an appropriate in-network health care provider. An analysis of four provider directories associated with plans offered by three of the state’s largest insurers found:
» Three-quarters of the listings had at least one inaccuracy (not in-network, not accepting new patients, not practicing at the location listed, inaccurate or inoperable phone number, or languages spoken inaccurately listed)
» One in five health care providers listed as participating in a plan’s network were not; in one directory forty percent of the providers listed were not actually participating in the plan » Among the providers who were confirmed to be in-network, thirteen percent were not accepting new patients; in one directory one in four confirmed in-network providers were not accepting new patients
» Fifteen percent of telephone numbers associated with providers listed in the directories were inaccurate or inoperable
These inaccuracies and usability limitations make it difficult for health care consumers, particularly those who haven’t had insurance before, to find and access an appropriate medical care provider. Setting basic standards for provider directories and protections for the consumers who rely upon them would go a long way towards making provider directories the tool that patients and consumers need when they shop for and use their health insurance.
Download the full set of findings here.
The first month of session is behind us and there is still so much to do! We’re excited about the discussion and movement around provider directory transparency. If you’re interesting in receiving action alerts as important legislation moves through the legislative process and small advocacy actions you can take, join the Georgia Health Action Network(GHAN)!
To see a full list of bills we’re following, click here.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK
Improving Provider Directories
SB 302, the Improving Provider Directories Act, will be heard, and possibly voted on, in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee this Thursday.
Please call or email the members of the committee to let them know that you support the Improving Provider Directories Act!
Sen. Charlie Bethel (Chairman) 404-651-7738
Sen. David Shafer (Vice Chairman) 404-656-0048
Sen. P.K. Martin (bill sponsor) 404-656-3933
Sen. Gail Davenport 404-463-5260
Sen. Marty Harbin 404-656-0078
Sen. Ed Harbison 404-656-0074
Sen. Burt Jones 404-656-0082
Sen. Joshua McKoon 404-463-3931
Sen. Renee Unterman (bill co-sponsor)
Sen. Larry Walker 404-656-0081
GHF supports updating Georgia’s network adequacy standards. We don’t expect to see legislation this year, but there are conversations happening in both chambers and in both parties. GHF will be advocating for a study committee to meet during 2016 so that the legislature will have enough information during the 2017 legislative session to debate the best standards for Georgia. To read more about network adequacy and why it matters to Georgia, check out our new policy brief.
Surprise Out-Of-Network Billing
In both the House and Senate we are still hearing strong interest in addressing surprise out-of-network billing. It is probable that we will soon see a bill that adresses this issue and we will keep you updated on any such developments.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap
Rep. Stacey Abrams has sponsored HB 823, the Expand Medicaid Now Act. While we don’t expect this legislation to receive a hearing this year, it is sparking important conversations about the coverage gap in Georgia. Read more here.
This week we are highlighting in our Consumer Health Advocacy Today video series a conversation with Representative Debbie Buckner on her health priorities for the 2016 legislative session.
GHF and Georgia Watch host policy forum on network adequacy, surprise out-of-network billing, and provider directory accuracy.
Early in February, GHF and Georgia Watch partnered to host policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates at a policy panel on important health insurance consumer protections. The event opened with remarks from Senator Dean Burke and included presentations from Consumers Union’s Julie Silas, Georgia Watch’s Beth Stephens, and GHF’s Meredith Gonsahn. If you missed the event, you can find presentations and materials below!
Julie Silas’s presentation: Finding Policy Solutions for Provider Directories and Surprise Medical Bills
Meredith Gonsahn’s presentation: Improving Network Adequacy and Provider Directory Standards in Georgia
Who was there? Check out the photo album.
As consumers navigate the new landscape of increasingly narrow networks and high deductibles, they need the right tools and information to choose a health insurance plan that best fits their medical needs and their household budgets. Provider directories are the primary tool available to consumers to determine whether the plan they are selecting has a narrow or broad network and to identify which providers are in their plan. As such, these directories should be accurate, up-to-date, and should truly function as a tool. Despite the important role directories play, they are notorious for being rife with errors and for lacking the functionality to help consumers make optimal choices in the market. By drawing upon model legislation from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and best practices from other states, Georgia can take steps to improve directories. This policy brief:
– explains the role provider directories play as a tool for consumer decision-making
– describes current provider directory provision in Georgia
– describes common problems with provider directories
– outlines recent policy activity around provider directories
– highlights other state examples of provider directory improvements
When consumers enroll in a health insurance plan, they gain access to a network of medical providers. This network must be adequate to ensure that consumers enrolled in the plan have reasonable access to all covered benefits. While network adequacy is not a new concept, it has a new urgency in light of the sheer number of newly insured Georgians enrolled in individual plans; the move on the part of insurance companies toward narrow networks and tiered networks, which limit the number of providers plan enrollees can access; new federal standards; and a new model act from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) that provides updated guidance for states. Georgia health care consumers need and deserve clear standards and protections that ensure their coverage translates to access to care without financial hardship. Georgians for a Healthy Future released today at a public policy form held in Atlanta a new policy brief on network adequacy. This policy brief:
– explains the importance of network adequacy for access to care
– outlines current network adequacy standards in Georgia
– summarizes recent policy activity around network adequacy
– sets forth consumer-oriented principles for network adequacy standards in Georgia
– provides policy recommendations to achieve network adequacy in Georgia.
Week three was a very exciting one for Georgia health care consumers! The introduction of SB 302 signaled true movement on consumer priorities, like insurer provider directory transparency. Check below to see what happened and how you can get involved.
If you’re looking for a list of all the bills we’re tracking and their status in the legislature, click here.
What Happened This Week
Improving Provider Directories
We are very excited to share with you that last week Senator P.K. Martin (R-9th) introduced legislation to address provider directory inaccuracies and usability limitations. Senators Burke (R-11th), Watson (R-1st), Parent (D-42nd), and Unterman (R-45th) are also co-sponsors of SB 302. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee and we expect it will receive a hearing within the next week. Read SB 302.
Please join us in thanking Sen. Martin for introducing such an important piece of legislation! You can email him here or call him at 404-656-3933.
Rep. Stacey Abrams has sponsored HB 823, the Expand Medicaid Now Act. While we don’t expect this legislation to receive a hearing this year, it is sparking important conversations about the coverage gap in Georgia. Read more here.If you want to get involved in the movement to close Georgia’s coverage gap you can share this video with your social network and sign this petition.
Georgia legislative study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues and develop strategies for the legislature to address them. Each committee produces a report on its findings and recommendations that they want to move forward in the next legislative session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees. GHF has been following and participating in the study committees focused on health issues impacting consumers. Below is a run-down of committees that have published their reports, the issues they investigated, and report recommendations.
Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561)
In light of changing practices and norms in the insurance market Senate Bill 158, the Consumer and Provider Protection Act, was introduced in 2015. This bill outlined provisions for consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance and created the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act. The aim of this committee was to understand how the current insurance environment affects the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee members included legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative.
Committee recommendations include the following:
- Rental networks– When insurers create networks for health plans, they contract with providers who agree to offer services at discounted rates. Rental networks are created when the same insurer “rents out” or sells access to network providers, at a different discounted rate, to other payers (e.g. insurers, third party payers, employers). Oftentimes this is done without provider’s consent, so a provider may unknowingly treat someone who is part of the rental network and have to accept a different payment amount. The committee agreed that transparency for both consumers and providers can be improved by including a more complete definition of “rental networks” in Georgia Code and further defining the Georgia Department of Insurance’s regulatory authority in this area.
- Provider contracting- The committee agreed that more discussions need to take place in two areas surrounding how insurers contract with providers. First, insurers are allowed to change the terms of a contract with a provider, at any point, without the provider’s consent. Second, providers argue that some insurers include all-product clauses in contracts, which means a provider has to participate in all plans offered by the insurer or none.
- Health provider network adequacy- As you may have read in the November Peach Pulse, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has put together a model act to address network adequacy. The committee recommended convening a multi-stakeholder group to review the Model Act to determine whether Georgia should consider adopting some of the Model Act’s measures and if we need additional legislation and regulation in these areas to protect and provide an appropriate level of access to care for consumers in the future.
GHF has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. We support the setting and enforcement of network adequacy standards for all health plans in Georgia. As the multi-stakeholder group looks into these issues further, GHF will continue to add the consumer voice to the dialogue to keep consumer priorities at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers.
Senate Study Committee on Youth Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Mental Health Substance Use Disorders (SR 487)
The committee was charged with identifying prevention and screening approaches for youth substance use disorders (SUD) and examining issues around the diagnosis rate of youth attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The committee made recommendations in the following five areas:
- Behavioral therapy- Behavioral therapy should be the first line of treatment for ADHD in young children and be required treatment for any child under six who has a diagnosis and receives medication.
- School workforce- Georgia must increase efforts to reduce student-behavioral health personnel ratios in schools and maximize resources available to students.
- Clubhouse Services Provided by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD)- The committee supports the clubhouse programs that provide a place for youth to go for substance use recovery support. The committee recommended increasing state funding for them, as well as creating additional clubhouse sites across the state.
- SBIRT: Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment- While the Committee supports SBIRT programs and training in the state, currently Medicaid does not bill for services, so the Committee will continue to monitor states that have recently activated Medicaid codes for SBIRT.
- School-Based Health Clinics- The Committee plans to monitor and share findings with Georgia’s CMOs and the House Study Committee on School-Based Health Centers (see below for committee summary), to potentially convene a joint study on the issue in 2016
GHF appreciates the Committee’s special focus on SBIRT and has been working over the past two years with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse to raise awareness about the promise of taking a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention through screening. GHF will continue to advocate for the activation of Medicaid codes to bill for SBIRT services because it is an effective approach to reducing youth substance use disorders and creating a bright future for our youth.
Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare (SR 560)
The focus of the Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare was on the current condition of women’s healthcare in Georgia, areas with existing deficits, and the growing number of women who are at risk of unhealthy outcomes. Here are some of the Committee’s recommendations:
- The Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD) State Registry are important initiatives that the Committee strongly supports.
- Strategies for funding and development (e.g. loan forgiveness, tax credits, increasing GME residency slots, etc) for health care providers that serve women across the state should be increased.
- The Committee will continue to monitor the status of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Pilot Program to inform future opportunities for patient-centered medical homes and increase the use of telemedicine.
- Continue state funding to Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention under DHS and the Cancer State Aid Program for FY 2016.
House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers (HR 640)
The intent of the committee was to provide recommendations on how to establish school-based health centers in communities to ensure students are healthy and achieve academic success. Committee members looked at the associations between health and education and ways in which school based health centers can be leveraged to increase access, provide affordable care, and produce cost savings. I am giving my children focus supplements and it has really helped a lot with their grades. Key committee recommendations include the following:
- Steps to establish a SBHC should include three stages: planning, implementation, and sustainability.
- Telemedicine is an important element, especially in rural areas and is most effective when integrated into a healthcare system that is capable of delivering comprehensive services. State-wide investments should be made to increase use of telemedicine for systems of care and expanding the scope of practice for on-site providers who can be authorized to deliver services.
- Lake Forest Elementary School (Fulton County) and Albany Area Primary Health Care at Turner Elementary are models that have been successfully implemented.
The legislative session begins January 11th and many of these recommendations will be moving forward in the form of bills, policy changes within state agencies and through additional study committees. GHF will continue to follow these issues and keep you posted on progress and advocacy opportunities to get involved. Stay tuned!