Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the mass health insurance loss “spotlights a real weakness in our health system.” “On the other…
Georgia currently ranks 51st in children’s mental health services but an infusion of dollars into Georgia’s system of care is expected to have a positive impact around the state. Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Of that allotment, $4.3 million are dedicated to fund 13 additional grants for the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with behavioral health needs.
Nearly one in ten Georgia children ages 2 to 17 years have one or more diagnosed emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions and these conditions become more prevalent as children hit adolescence. Behavioral health issues can manifest in chronic absenteeism, classroom disruption, discipline issues, or other adverse behaviors at school, which can prevent young people from being academically successful.
To address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s students, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) launched the Georgia Apex Program in 2015 to “[create] partnerships between community-based mental health providers and local schools to provide school-based mental health services.” The three main goals of the Apex Program are:
- To increase access to mental health services for children and youth;
- To provide early detection of child and adolescent mental health needs; and
- To increase coordination between community-based mental health providers and the local schools and districts they serve.
The Apex Program places mental health providers in schools to provide services like screening, assessment, counseling and therapy, and referrals to community support services like youth club houses. The program began with 29 community health providers in 104 Georgia schools, and as of February 2018, the program had expanded to 320 schools. Over the first two years of the program, more than 5000 students who had not previously received mental health services were screened and provided with the appropriate services and supports for their needs.
More than three quarters (76%) of the schools served by the Apex Program are located in rural areas where behavioral health services are more limited, and almost half (46.6%) are located in elementary schools so that services are available to younger students, when behavioral health conditions are often less severe and more treatable.
In addition to increasing access to care for students in need, the program has demonstrated success by integrating into a variety of school settings and improving coordination and communication between providers and school staff. Further, providers are able to bill for 75-90% of the students served each month, indicating the model may be financially sustainable.
The Georgia Apex Program is a promising model that brings mental health care services to Georgia children, reducing barriers to health care and improving their chances for academic success.
To learn more about the Georgia Apex Program:
- Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Children, Young Adults and Families or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read the resources available at Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
- Watch the video below from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and see how the Georgia Apex Program is making a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted an educational forum titled Strong Foundations: Building a System of Care to Address the Behavioral Health Needs of Georgia Children on Tuesday, May 15. The forum explored the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. The event also raised awareness about Georgia’s system of care in an effort to improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth.
The event began with Respect Institute speaker Tammie Harrison, who shared her experiences navigating the behavioral health care system and getting to a place of recovery.
Because many of the event attendees were new to the topic of children’s behavioral health (BH), GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided some foundational information about the prevalence of children’s BH conditions, contributors to poor BH, and the pathways to BH care and supports for young Georgians. You can find Laura’s PowerPoint slides here. She also debuted GHF’s new behavioral health fact sheet.
Dante McKay, Director of the Office of Children, Young Adults, & Families at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provided attendees with an overview of DBHDD’s work, the 2017 System of Care state plan, and how the recently signed FY19 budget would impact the department’s ability to serve Georgia children and youth.
Dr. Erica Fener-Sitkoff, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children moderated a panel discussion of BH service providers, which included Wendy Farmer of Behavioral Health Link, Laura Lucas of Project LAUNCH (DBHDD), and Monica McGannon of CHRIS 180. The panelists discussed barriers to accessing BH services, which they said include continued stigma, lack of trained workforce, and transportation. The panel also identified innovative efforts, like Project LAUNCH and mobile crisis services, to bring BH services closer to consumers when and where they need it. When asked how Georgia’s next Governor could continue to make progress in the area of children’s behavioral health, panelists suggested a focus on workforce development, increasing access to community-based substance use treatment for teens, and prevention and early intervention.
If you missed the event, a recording of the webcast is available here.
To see photos, review materials, and read more about our Strong Foundations event, please visit the event page.
Valerie is a mother of three children living in Lamar County. Medicaid covers all three of Valerie’s children, and they rely on the health coverage it provides for their varying health needs. Valerie sometimes has difficulty accessing the care and information the family needs because they live in a rural area, but acknowledges that Medicaid is a lifeline that makes it possible for her to focus on her family’s other needs. Without health insurance through Medicaid, Valerie would have to pay hefty medical bills to ensure her children receive the care they require.
Susie is the sole caretaker of her young granddaughter, but she has a hard time caring for herself because she is stuck in Georgia’s coverage gap. She makes more than $6300 annually, so she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid coverage as a caregiver, and she doesn’t make enough to receive financial help to buy health insurance through the Marketplace. Susie is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but because she lacks health coverage, Susie is only able to receive cancer treatments from a doctor that allows her to make low monthly payments. Susie has other chronic health issues that need to be managed but finds it difficult to receive consistent care without insurance. Because Georgia’s elected officials have not extended Medicaid to cover caregivers like Susie, she struggles to care for herself while working to ensure her young granddaughter receives the care and support she needs to grow up healthy and thrive.
Medicaid provides access to needed health care services for low-income soon-to-be-moms, new mothers, and very low-income parents of minor children. For moms like Valerie, Medicaid makes being a mom a little easier by ensuring that their children have access to the health care services they need to grow and stay healthy. For others, Medicaid would help them get or stay healthy so they can best fulfill the responsibilities of being a mothers or caregivers. Over 150,000 uninsured women like Susie would gain health insurance if Georgia’s decision makers extended Medicaid to cover low-income adults (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three).
I am a graduate student in the Public Health program at Georgia State University. As a part of my coursework, I completed a semester-long practicum with Georgians for a Healthy Future as the Legislative Health Policy Intern.
In my academic program, I have spent extensive time learning about health policy, the legislative process, and the healthcare landscape in the United States. While covering those topics in a classroom setting was informative, seeing the legislative process first hand was invaluable. During my time with Georgians for a Healthy Future, I had the privilege of experiencing the legislative process by visiting the Capitol for committee and advocacy meetings, tracking legislation, and meeting policy makers and advocates.
Some of what I learned in the classroom applied to my work at GHF, but I found that there are some things you can only learn through experience. I was surprised by the length of time that legislators spend discussing some bills. Minutia in bill language could be debated for a whole two-hour meeting, while some key details might be voted on within minutes. I often felt a rollercoaster of emotions as a passionate hearing drew my sympathy for a given issue, while opposition pushed back on the bill. Spending time in committee hearings solidified my understanding that health policy often lies in gray areas, despite initially appearing to be black and white.
In my time at Georgians for a Healthy Future, I have learned a great deal about the organization and working in advocacy. Something that surprised me about GHF is the great value of the small things they do, such as encouraging constituents to call their legislators, sharing facts and resources with partner organizations, and talking to consumers. Their efforts often go unseen by the general public but have significant implications for the citizens of Georgia. I have seen the fruits of their labors, and it excites me to know there is an organization working so hard to protect and give a voice to our most vulnerable Georgians. Their partner organizations are equally inspiring in working to better the health of people in the state.
look forward to taking my GHF experience and knowledge with me into the public health field. I have gained a greater understanding of health policy and how bills get passed. I have learned the importance of advocacy and that every person can have a voice. I have learned that there are so many deeply passionate, caring, and hard-working individuals working towards health equity in Georgia. I have learned that the road to policy is often long, but the payoff is worth the time and effort. I will take these lessons with me as I move into my career, and work towards the goal of creating a healthier state and nation for everyone.
MPH Candidate 2017
Georgia State University
Last week, GHF was on the road again traveling to Athens for UGA’s annual State of Public Health conference. The SOPH conference is a chance for public health researchers, practitioners, and students to share and learn about the newest public health initiatives and research happening across Georgia. We were excited to be featured as a presenter among other experts, advocates, and leaders in Georgia’s public health domain.
In a workshop dedicated to the Affordable Care Act, GHF teamed up with Georgia Watch to talk about Marketplace enrollment efforts in Georgia. The presentation was based on GHF’s “Getting Georgia Covered” report, which explored the successes and barriers to outreach and enrollment efforts in Open Enrollment 2. We also previewed the upcoming open enrollment period, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, and advocated for closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
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The other presenters in the workshop, including another presentation from our partner Georgia Watch, comprehensively covered the new ACA requirement for hospitals to complete a community health needs assessment (CHNA) of their service area every 2-3 years and how that is being implemented in Georgia. The workshop generated some excellent questions and constructive conversation about these two very different aspects of the ACA.
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Commentary from Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director
The nation’s uninsured rate has plummeted over the past year and a half. Here in Georgia, more than 400,000 people have enrolled in health insurance, bringing our state’s uninsured rate down to 15 percent. While there is still much work to be done to ensure that all Georgians have a pathway to coverage (like expanding Medicaid), it’s also important to make sure that those who are newly covered are able to access needed health care services.
Are newly insured Georgians accessing the care they need? For the most part, the answer seems to be yes. The early evidence shows that most people who signed up for health insurance have been able to find a doctor with relative ease and get an appointment for primary care within a week or two.
This is a development worth celebrating, but there are also some warning signs on the horizon that policymakers should heed: according to a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, Georgia had the highest percentage of health plans utilizing “narrow networks” of providers. In addition, reports of provider directory inaccuracies and networks too skinny to deliver all of the services in a plan’s benefit package have started to emerge.
Narrow networks offer a limited choice of providers in exchange for a lower premium. While many Georgians are willing to make this trade-off, others need a broader network to meet their health needs. And everyone deserves the tools and information to make that choice and to know that they can access services for all covered benefits.
Health care consumers now have access to standardized information about premiums, benefits, deductibles, and other health plan features that make it easier to pick the right plan. Yet provider network size and composition remain a black box for consumers, holding them back from making the best, most informed decision they can. Combined with a rapid trend toward narrow networks, this could put some consumers at risk of not being able to access all of the providers and services they need (or at risk for high medical bills if they have to go out-of-network).
These trends are being examined as part of the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561). I was honored to be appointed to this committee to represent Georgians for a Healthy Future and to bring the consumer perspective to the committee. The committee’s third meeting, slated for the morning of November 9th at the State Capitol, will focus on network adequacy, or whether there are adequate standards in place to ensure that consumers enrolled in a health plan have reasonable access to all covered services in the plan.
As a committee member, it is my goal to make sure the voices and needs of consumers are heard and considered. It is becoming clear that consumers don’t yet have 1) access to all of the information they need to select a health plan that best meets their needs and 2) protections that ensure their health plan will provide timely and meaningful access to all covered services. Fortunately, these are problems we can address.
I will be supporting enhancements to provider directories that give consumers the information they need and deserve (such as enhanced search functionality and a simple way to report inaccuracies) as well as network adequacy standards for Georgia that ensure no insured Georgian has to travel an unreasonably long distance or wait an excessive amount of time to access the care they need. I’ve also learned a great deal about this issue by watching the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s work in this area, and was happy to sign on in support of the policy recommendations around network adequacy that the NAIC’s consumer representatives issued last year.
I am excited about this opportunity to make our health system work better, and GHF will keep you posted on new developments. If you’re interested in providing testimony to the committee, please let us know and we can forward your request to Senator Burke, who chairs the study committee.
Did you know that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can receive certain preventive services at absolutely no cost? It’s true! One of the key requirements of the ACA is that insurance companies must cover recommended preventive services at no cost to the consumer – even if you haven’t met your deductible. These include services such as mammograms, annual physicals, colonoscopies, well-woman exams, cholesterol screenings, tobacco cessation, and many more. Click here for a full list of the preventive services that must be covered by all insurance companies. There is also an additional list of required services for women and a separate one for children. It’s important to take advantage of these no-cost preventive services to keep you and your family healthy. Evidence shows that preventive services can save lives and improve health by identifying illnesses earlier, managing them more effectively, and treating them before they become complicated and debilitating conditions.
If you have any questions about your insurance, please contact our Consumer Education Specialist, Whitney Griggs by email or at 404-567-5016 x 5
With the holiday season upon us and the electronic cigarette from slim’s ejuice, the health of our state’s children and families is at the top of all of our minds. Georgians for a Healthy Future has focused heavily on promoting policies that ensure a pathway to coverage and meaningful access to care for all Georgians in recent years, but identifying and advocating for policies that improve health outcomes is also close to our hearts. In that spirit, we believe it is time to act on tobacco, which is the leading cause of preventable disease and death. They should switch to drinking matcha instead and matcha vape to minimize addiction.
Earlier this month, Georgia’s Medicaid program amended its state plan to include a comprehensive smoking cessation program. This is an important victory that will help reduce smoking in our state. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to thank Commissioner Clyde Reese for taking this important step. There is, however, more to do. We need your partnership and your voices to help us take on the biggest hurdle we face in curbing smoking and its harmful effects: increasing the tobacco tax in our state.
According to the American Lung Association’s annual state report card, Georgia scores an “F” on tobacco taxes. Georgia currently ranks as the 48th lowest tobacco tax in the country at just 37 cents per pack. Not only does this make tobacco much more accessible to youth (and all Georgians), but it takes much needed revenue off the table for Georgia as the state tries to find funding for transportation infrastructure, education, and health care coverage for Georgians. If we don’t agree into tobacco, let’s try this new vape and its top vape juice.
In fact, Georgia is so far below the national average for tobacco taxes that we could raise our tax by over a dollar per pack and still just be at the national average. That is why this year GHF and a coalition of supporters will propose raising Georgia’s cigarette tax by $1.23 per pack. It’s as easy as 1-2-3!
One – for the kids who we can prevent from ever starting
Two – for the improved health outcomes that smoking reductions will bring, using other options to smoking as vaporizers that are easy to get now a days from sites like http://vapekey.co.
Three – for the revenue the tobacco tax will bring to our state that can be invested in coverage, access, and prevention.
Please check your upcoming editions of the Peach Pulse for updates on this issue and opportunities to take action!
Georgians for a Healthy Future and more than 40 organizations launched an education and advocacy campaign this week is support of expanding Medicaid in Georgia. Below is our announcement about Cover Georgia’s launch. Please contact us if you’d like to join the coalition.
COVER GEORGIA COALITION LAUNCHES EFFORT TO ENSURE THAT THE STATE MOVES FORWARD WITH THE MEDICAID EXPANSION
ATLANTA, Ga., January 10, 2013 – More than 40 organizations – including healthcare providers, hospitals and healthcare advocates – announced today the creation of a coalition in support of expanding Medicaid to Georgians with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level as authorized by the federal health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Called Cover Georgia, the coalition is spearheaded by Georgians for a Healthy Future and is comprised of a wide range of healthcare stakeholders, including the Georgia Rural Health Association, the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, AARP Georgia, the American Cancer Society, among many others.
Enacted by Congress in 2010, the Affordable Care Act included the Medicaid Expansion provision, which would provide the states with billions of dollars in new federal funds to enroll currently uninsured citizens in their Medicaid programs. In Georgia, expanding the program is projected to cover approximately 650,000 Georgians and to bring approximately $33 billion in federal funds into the state over ten years. For the first three years of the expansion, the federal government will fund 100 percent of the new cost; after that, the states would be required to cover no more than 10 percent of the total cost from 2020 onward.
Cover Georgia will make the case that expanding Georgia’s Medicaid program and leveraging the billions of dollars in federal resources will improve access to care, strengthen the state’s health care delivery system, and bolster Georgia’s economy. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Georgians and we simply cannot pass up this opportunity,” said Amanda Ptashkin, outreach and advocacy director for Georgians for a Healthy Future, the organization spearheading the coalition work.
When the U.S. Supreme Court decided the constitutionality of the ACA in 2012, it ruled that states could not be compelled to participate in the Medicaid Expansion. So far, Governor Deal has said he does not plan to move forward with the expansion in Georgia, expressing concerns about the state budget and the long-term fiscal outlook at the federal level.
“Cover Georgia is a statewide education and advocacy campaign focused on spotlighting both the critical role that Medicaid plays within Georgia today and the opportunity that implementing an expansion of the program presents for consumers, the health care system, and our state’s economy,” said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “Covering the lowest-income uninsured through Medicaid will provide access to the basic prevention and treatment services that uninsured Georgians lack today and will pump an infusion of federal dollars into our state’s health care economy.”
“Other states across the country are saying yes to the Medicaid expansion and are investing in their state’s health care delivery systems with federal taxpayer dollars paid by Georgians. Georgia cannot afford to maintain the status quo while other states invest heavily in their health systems. Doing so will further compound regional health disparities and limit Georgia’s ability to compete in the long-run.”
Matt Caseman, of the Georgia Rural Health Association, agrees that in addition to the overall economy, the expansion will help rural Georgia. “Expanding Medicaid will provide thousands of rural Georgians, who don’t have health insurance, access to a primary care doctor and preventative medicine. It will help reduce the burden of uncompensated care and keep the doors open for our safety net providers. This initiative is critical to not only the health of Georgia’s rural communities, but our state’s overall economic success as well.”
Tim Sweeney, of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, believes that access to affordable health coverage is one of the most pressing health care issues facing the state. “Expanding Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of low-income Georgians is one of the most cost-effective ways to address the issue. Implementing the expansion will enable more Georgians to access needed health care, while boosting Georgia’s economy by bringing billions in new federal funding for doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers throughout the state.”
The consequences of this decision will affect hundreds of thousands of Georgians. AARP Georgia State Director, Greg Tanner, points out that, “there are 127,000 Georgians in their 50s or early 60s who make less than $15,000 a year and have no health insurance. Expanding Medicaid to cover them would make them more productive and in the first three years pump $8 billion into Georgia. That money will go directly to doctors, hospitals, clinics and other health care providers. We can’t afford not to expand coverage.”
If the state decides to forgo expanding the Medicaid Expansion, those individuals who earn more than our current eligibility levels but less than 100% FPL (Federal Poverty Level) will have no options for coverage and would not qualify for subsidized coverage in the state’s health insurance exchanges. Those individuals will fall into a coverage gap.
The Cover Georgia coalition will continue to work on educating the public, key decision-makers and others on the importance of the expansion and what it means for our citizens. Individual consumers, health care professionals, policy-makers and others can learn more about Georgia’s Medicaid program and what the expansion would mean for thousands of Georgians by visiting Cover Georgia’s website at www.coverga.org.