“They haven’t done any checks since March of 2020 so everyone has been able to keep their coverage for that entire period without having to renew,” said Laura Colbert, Executive…
In the spring of this year, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Watch, and SOWEGA Rising launched a project in Southwest Georgia to address the burden of medical debt. Southwest Georgia, including the Albany area, experiences medical debt at a higher rate than the rest of Georgia and the country. In Dougherty County, 22% of residents have a medical debt in collections, compared to 19% for Georgia and 15% nationally. This debt also disproportionately impacts communities of color. In Dougherty County, 25% of Black residents have a medical debt in collections, compared to 21% in Georgia and 17% nationally (Urban Institute, 2020).
Medical debt can have a profound impact on the quality of a person’s life. Studies have found that medical debt is associated with a decreased use of health services, especially among low-income individuals who often become sicker while delaying care, which increases the cost of their care (Crawford, 2021). These impacts can trickle down to affect the health of the entire community.
To better understand both the individual and community impacts of medical debt, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Watch, and SOWEGA Rising have used several outreach methods to invite residents of southwest Georgia to share their stories and feedback on experiences with medical debt. Since May of 2021, SOWEGA Rising has organized in-person listening sessions and Facebook Live virtual events to help individuals share their experiences with accessing and affording care in the community, including sharing whether they currently have unpaid medical bills, bills in collections, and how those bills are impacting their lives. So far, we’ve conducted seven listening sessions, and the experiences shared with us show that southwest Georgia residents are struggling to afford their care. Over 60% of those we spoke to reported delaying or avoiding care due to cost concerns, and over 70% reported an outstanding medical bill that had been sent to collections.
In October, we launched the Dish the Debt campaign in a focused effort to encourage community members, especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by medical debt, to share their encounters with medical bills, medical debt, and unfair debt collection practices. The campaign included social media posts throughout the month that talked about the issue of medical debt and explained why it’s so crucial for those affected by medical debt in southwest Georgia to share their story. Each post linked to a story collection form on Georgia Watch’s website where individuals could share their stories and contact information for follow-up.
A more recent effort to engage the southwest Georgia community to share their experiences with medical debt came during Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Southwest Georgia Health Care Affordability forum. During the forum, speakers from Albany Area Primary Care, Samaritan Clinic, and Valley Healthcare (local clinics that provide free or low-cost care to the community) shared how high medical costs negatively impact southwest Georgia. GHF also shared data on the disproportionate share of medical debt among communities of color in southwest Georgia during the forum. Each organization that spoke during the forum is also sharing links to the medical debt story collection form to elicit more stories from the southwest Georgia community.
Our organizations will continue to create opportunities for community feedback and stories regarding medical debt in southwest Georgia. We will ramp up our community feedback and story collection efforts in 2022, starting with a dual listening session and Affordable Care Act enrollment event in Cuthbert. We invite anyone interested to join us on January 13th, from 5 – 8 pm. Location in Cuthbert TBD.
We know that personal stories are critical to making lasting legislative and policy changes. While data on medical debt and the disproportionate impact on communities of color is deeply concerning, sharing stories creates a connection between those impacted by medical debt and Georgia’s decision-makers in a way that data cannot. We hope to use these stories, alongside data, to encourage hospital systems and lawmakers to enact policies that will protect Georgia communities from the crushing impacts of high health care costs and medical debt.
Crawford, K (2021). Stanford News: Stanford study finds medical debt is a double whammy for the poor. https://news.stanford.edu/2021/10/07/study-finds-medical-debt-double-whammy-poor/
Urban Institute (2020). Debt in America: An Interactive Map.https://apps.urban.org/features/debt-interactive-map/?type=overall&variable=pct_debt_collections
Georgia’s Medicaid health insurance system covers many different Georgians, including those with disabilities. The coverage provided to people with disabilities offers much-needed support to individuals and families that might otherwise fall short of addressing their health care needs.
While Medicaid has been a lifeline for some, a full expansion of Medicaid would bring additional funding to the state and strengthen existing programs. For every dollar Georgia would spend to close the coverage gap, Georgia would receive up to $9 in federal funding. The recently passed American Rescue Plan added to the financial incentives available under Medicaid expansion; under the new federal law, Georgia could attract $1.3-$2 Billion to cover the costs of expansion and offset state spending on other priorities.
This additional funding could benefit Georgians who need Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Medicaid waivers. HCBS waivers help people with disabilities get the health and support services they need so they can live independently in their communities, rather than in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Currently, more than 6000 Georgians sit on a waiting list for one of these waivers. The additional funding that Georgia could earn under Medicaid expansion could reduce or possibly eliminate the HCBS waiver waiting list altogether.
Below is a first-hand account from a Georgia mother, whose 9-year-old daughter is covered by Medicaid. Her daughter was diagnosed with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy at 18 months. Since her diagnosis, the two have navigated challenging care and coverage issues. Their experiences highlight a number of the policy and advocacy issues that consumers contact GHF about regularly: Medicaid, Medicaid expansion, difficulty finding health care providers, Georgia’s public health system.(more…)
GHF is excited to welcome Lois Hairston as the organization’s new Story Collection Coordinator. In this role, Lois will work to collect, develop, and share the stories of Georgia individuals and families as part of GHF’s Close the Gap initiative.
Lois is a graduate of Old Dominion in Virginia, where this past year, she served as the Communication and Membership Chair for the University’s Black Alumni Chapter. Her professional background includes experience with marketing agencies in Virginia and the District of Columbia, where she managed direct marketing campaigns for clients such as the Democratic Governors Association and the HealthWell Foundation. Recently, in her role as Communications Manager for Youth Entrepreneurs, Lois managed the creation of branded content and acted as the public relations liaison for the national nonprofit.(more…)
Recently released HHS numbers show that health insurance enrollment in Georgia and across the country is going strong. The Affordable Care Act is what has made these coverage gains possible, yet Congress has prioritized repealing this landmark legislation without clarifying what would replace it. We need your stories and your voice to ensure our policymakers understand the consequences of repealing the law. Please consider submitting your story, or the stories of the people that you serve, of how the ACA has benefited you. Whether it’s being able to afford coverage through the availability of tax credits, not being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or being able to stay on a parent’s plan until age 26 – we need to hear from you!