Laura Colbert of consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future said Monday that even a 6.5 percent increase could prove difficult to afford for families who don’t qualify for…
Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin sat down with A Spirit of Charity author Mike King to discuss his new book on the role of public hospitals in America. Below is a Q&A that delves into some of the book’s major themes. On July 19th, Georgians for a Healthy Future will hold a book event in Atlanta with Mike King, providing a unique opportunity for the advocacy community to discuss the history and role of public hospitals in America and the direction of health policy in Georgia with the author.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have been writing and editing stories about medicine and natural medicine like thai kratom powder and health care policy for about 30 years where they use different kind of medicines, you could for example this reach out to one!. When the newspaper business collapsed and I chose to leave it in 2009, I thought I’d just retire and take it easy. But when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 I realized I had the time, without daily deadline pressures, to tell a story about the most important effort at reform over the last 50 years and how it might play out right here in Atlanta and at Grady in particular,.
How do public hospitals serve as a window into America’s health system?
As the book hopefully makes clear, the people who show up in the emergency rooms and clinics of America’s public hospitals are the result of all gaping holes, political compromises and unintended consequences of decades of attempts to reform our health care system. Even in our noblest of efforts, we always seem to leave whole segments of our society behind. Donald Trump, in a candid moment earlier in the campaign when the media pushed him for more details about what his alternative to Obamacare would look like, frustratingly blurted, “Look, we won’t let people die in the streets, OK?” In some ways that’s been our baseline as a health care system from the start, which is why public hospitals were created. We don’t let our citizens die in the streets. They get sick in the street but, if they are lucky, we get them to a public hospital that hopefully will rescue them from dying before they return to the streets. That’s a harsh assessment, I know, and we do much better than that in many places thanks to the commitment of engaged local and state leaders, but there are too many places where the local public hospital seems expected to shoulder this burden on its own.
Four of the five hospitals profiled in your book are located in the South, and the role of Southern politicians in crafting U.S. health policy is explored throughout the book. Why a focus on the South?
Because the South is where the most problems are. Texas, Florida and Georgia lead the nation in the dubious distinction of having the most uninsured residents among all 50 states – mostly because all three have refused to expand Medicaid the way the ACA called for. Louisiana is high on the list too, but the new governor there is moving to try to expand Medicaid. Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Jackson Memorial in Miami, the University Medical Center in New Orleans (the replacement hospital for Charity) and, of course, Grady, all have to contend with a huge percentage of patients who are poor and uninsured and could be, should be, covered by Medicaid. That’s why I chose them.
Some public hospitals like Grady were established during segregation. The 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which catalyzed hospital construction, contained a provision permitting segregation in hospitals receiving federal funds. How does this legacy of segregation impact public hospitals today?
Hill-Burton was the first time federal law actually codified a separate-but-equal funding mechanism and it was inserted into the law specifically to get members of Congress from the South to go along. Rural hospitals around the South and more than a few in the suburbs were built in the 1950s and 60s with Hill-Burton money. Grady was rebuilt as a segregated hospital in 1958. After the enactment the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Medicare in 1965 that changed. Segregated hospitals – public and private – stood to lose too much money that they would be getting for the care of previously uninsured elderly patients if they stayed segregated. But there is still a legacy to overcome. There’s a reason elderly Atlantans still refer to Grady as the Gradies, going back not that long ago to when there was a Black Grady and a White Grady, with black nurses taking care of black patients and white nurses taking care of white patients. It still complicates the public discussion about how best to finance and administer this particular public hospital. I suspect that goes on in a lot of communities around the South that share a similar legacy.
You write that public hospitals serve as a “pressure release valve” for our nation’s health system. What do you mean by this?
We often refer to these places as safety net hospitals. But I contend they are more than that. The existence of a single hospital in a community that is chartered or required to take in all patients regardless of ability to pay fundamentally alters the medical marketplace in that community. It allows those hospitals that compete with it to measure their anticipated level of charity care against their expected revenue from insured patients and come up with a formula that helps them stay healthy and able to grow. It is not that most of these competing hospitals don’t provide a responsible level of charity care. Most of them do. But it is always at a level they can afford to provide. Public hospitals operate on a totally different business model. They have to take all comers and the only way they can stay open is to get some level of funding from state and local taxes to offset their losses. Here’s another way of looking at it: If Grady had gone belly up in 2007 and 2008, all the uninsured and indigent patients it served would have swamped the emergency rooms of Piedmont, the Atlanta Medical Center, Northside, St. Joseph’s, Emory and DeKalb Medical as well as other hospitals, jeopardizing their ability to provide the level of services their business model calls for. The safety valve would have blown.
Information about Medicaid, the health care program intended to help finance care for low-income Americans, is interwoven throughout your book. How are the histories and fates of Medicaid and public hospitals intertwined?
They are the key to understanding each other because Medicaid patients make up a large portion of the patients who go to these hospitals. When Medicaid was enacted in 1965 the theory was that with a health insurance program now in place for the poor and with Medicare available to the elderly, our nation’s public hospitals would finally start getting paid for many of the services they had been providing on a charity basis. But unlike Medicare, Medicaid was hampered – I would argue fundamentally flawed – by a series of compromises to get it through Congress. States were given a much bigger role in determining how poor you had to be to qualify for Medicaid, how much they wanted to pay doctors and hospitals to provide services for Medicaid patients and indeed whether they wanted to participate in the program at all. (Arizona didn’t join Medicaid until the 1980s.) The result was a checkerboard of health care programs for the poor around the country, based largely on what the states decide. And in the South, Medicaid has been chronically underfunded at the state level and treated more like a welfare program. This is how Southern politicians get away with calling it a failure. They starve it for funds, make it difficult for low-income people to get covered by it, grossly underpay doctors and hospitals that take patients covered by it and then decry the program for not working and being inefficient.
America’s health system is characterized by fragmentation. Why do you think this is and what is the role of public hospitals in a fragmented system?
We’ve all heard it before. America has a sick care system, not a health care system. And that system is based on who pays for sick care, not necessarily how we can more effectively pay for care to help keep people healthy. The good news is that the ACA is moving in the direction of breaking down some of the silos that have developed over the decades in how we deliver and pay for health care, with an emphasis on moving away from paying a fee for specific services and toward paying for overall wellness. That’s good. But it will take years to see results. Public hospitals will need to move in this direction as well – and some of them are. Cook County’s Medicaid Program (County Care) is coordinating care with its community hospital and clinic network and the federally funded community health centers in Chicago. The initial results look encouraging. If it works it will not only save lives but help control the rise in costs. But public hospitals must adapt to these new models and remain, in most large cities, the sole providers of costly essential services like trauma, HIV/AIDS and behavioral health for those who are still uninsured.
You write that, if public hospitals didn’t exist, “We would have to invent them.” What would an America without public hospitals look like?
It would be fascinating to see, wouldn’t it? Public hospitals were created one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago when it became obvious that the charitable institutions in large American cities could not meet the demand for care caused by yellow fever, cholera, pestilence and other public health threats, not to mention the population growth in cities after the Civil War. The almshouses and infirmaries, often staffed by religious women and funded by churches and community groups, just could not keep up. I suspect the same would happen today if we came to rely exclusively on the nonprofit sector to take over the responsibility for caring for the poor and uninsured. Even if we became enlightened and created a system of true universal insurance for all Americans, there would still be a need for expensive specialty areas. Trauma care, infectious disease programs, severe, chronic mental health services – these essential services now almost exclusively provided by public hospitals – I would suspect they would require some level of local and state financing at a public facility that would go beyond what they can expect in the way of revenue from a public insurance plan.
Grady is featured prominently throughout the book. What did you learn about Grady by writing this book that you didn’t know before?
That it is even bigger and more complicated and harder to manage than I ever dreamed. I think the current administration there is doing a really good job at getting the hospital positioned to be everything it can be. The quality of the specialty services there – trauma, neuroscience, neonatology, burn care, sickle cell, infectious disease – has probably never been better, and they get well informed visiting Litchfield Neurofeedback to learn about the benefits of Neurofeedback Therapy. The cancer program there, in addition to being first rate at the acute care level, is making great strides in the community in the much-needed area of early detection and treatment. That will go a long way toward reducing the disparities that exist in morbidity and mortality between white and black, affluent and poor residents of our community. But the hospital is still heavily reliant on the business and philanthropic community to grow, especially when it comes to capital improvements and equipment. That’s all been private money since the comeback started. State and county officials have yet to step up to the plate to help. If they are willing to help the Braves and the Falcons build new venues, they must be willing to step up to help Georgia’s most important hospital build and grow and provide essential services.
What role does Grady serve in health care policy in the state of Georgia?
The state needs to recognize Grady is a statewide institution, if for no other reason than it is the training ground for about one in every four doctors practicing in Georgia. I’ve often wondered whether the state’s relationship with Grady would be different if it had been affiliated with a state medical school instead of Emory and Morehouse – two private medical schools. Perhaps then it would have paid more attention to it. Even though Grady gets patients from almost every one of Georgia 159 counties, it isn’t realistic to think the state must subsidize indigent patient care there, but it could do much better and providing funding for the specialty services that Grady provides to all Georgians – trauma care, burn care, infectious diseases, etc. And, of course, it should expand Medicaid coverage so that Grady and all other hospitals in the state that have a heavy load of uninsured patients will at least have an opportunity to recoup some of their costs.
Where do you think Georgia is headed on health care policy?
I think we’ll expand Medicaid. Eventually. After President Obama is in the rear view mirror. We’ll call it something else so it doesn’t sound like it is part of Obamacare. But we will have squandered $3 to 5 billion and 100 percent federal funding to make this impetuous political statement, and no telling how many Georgians – one study puts it at 1,200 lives a year – who died because they lived in a state where they should have, but were kept from, enrolling in Medicaid. With a little political vision – and the help of advocates and experts – my hope is that we could create a Medicaid program that isn’t so fragmented; that fully integrates primary care and acute, hospital care; that reorganizes local hospitals and health departments into a true public health system that helps people stay healthy and when they get sick have no barriers to the care that they need. That shouldn’t be a pipe dream in a country as wealthy and smart as ours. That should be a working reality. On the other hand, try to visit what is a medium.
Progress at the Gold Dome
Last week, the golf umbrella held its first-ever hearing on closing the coverage gap. Closing the gap is the most important step our policymakers can take to lower the number of uninsured, improve access to care, and stabilize the rural health infrastructure in our state. Scroll down for the latest legislative updates and how you can get involved. You can also listen to Cindy Zeldin explain the legislative movement in her interview Tuesday on WABE’s “A Closer Look” (skip ahead to 59:18).
What is the coverage gap?
Georgia’s coverage gap and its consequences (struggling rural hospitals, Georgia’s high rate of uninsurance, etc.) are popular topics of conversation around the Capitol and among stakeholders recently. Three different proposals have been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly that attempt to address these issues. Details of each bill are included below. Additionally, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce has been studying the economic impact of Georgia’s coverage gap and how to craft a Georgia solution. They are expected to release formal recommendations later this year. Read more about that here. Because of the state’s multiple bills that attempt to address Georgia’s uninsured population and health care infrastructure, we hope that lawmakers will take this opportunity to consider these issues in tandem through a study committee. This will allow all stakeholders to take part in an open conversation about how to best utilize state and federal dollars to save our rural hospitals and provide quality health care for all Georgians.
SB 368 – An Alternative Approach to Medicaid Expansion
SB 368 was introduced by Sen. Michael ‘Doc’ Rhett and would expand coverage to low-income, uninsured Georgians. The bill is modeled off of Arkansas’s “private option” version of expansion where Medicaid dollars are used to buy insurance for low income people from the private market. The bill was heard in committee last week, but no action was taken. While some pieces of the bill are problematic, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee started an important conversation.
Watch an interview with Senator Rhett on his bill.
HB 823 – Expand Medicaid NOW Act
This bill was introduced early in the legislative session by House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams. It proposes a traditional Medicaid expansion, like Kentucky & Louisiana, and has not been heard in committee. You can read more about Rep. Abrams’s proposal here.
HB 919 – Tax Credits for Rural Hospital Donations
Passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on Monday, Rep. Geoff Duncan’s bill would provide up to $250 million in tax credits to individuals or corporations for contributions to rural health care organizations. While this legislation has sparked a conversation about how to best support our struggling rural hospitals, state funding could be better utilized by helping those in rural communities get health insurance coverage, an approach which would also draw down considerable federal dollars (at least $9 in federal funding for ever $1 of state funding). Hear Georgia Budget & Policy Institute’s Tim Sweeney on the topic here.
How Can You Help?
For the busy advocate…
It doesn’t take a lot to make an impact! We have two quick actions you can take that will take less time than reading this email!
1) Join the Georgia Health Action Network (GHAN). By signing up for GHAN you’ll receive action alerts that will keep you updated on the issues impacting your health care and quick actions you can take.
2) Sign the petition to close Georgia’s coverage gap!
If you’ve already signed the petition…
If you’ve already signed the petition and are ready to take another action, join us in educating your network about why this is such an important issue for all Georgians. How? Two ways:
1) Ask your friends and family to join our email list! It’s the most effective way we communicate with people interested in learning more about consumer health care issues in Georgia. There’s a super quick sign up form on our website homepage.
2) Share this video with your social network. The coverage gap is complicated and so many people still don’t know what it is! This 2 minute video explains the problem and who it impacts clearly.
If you want to really make your voice heard…
For the advocate looking to invest time, money and energy in an issue they really believe in, we have three key ways you can get involved and make a difference. The most important, money, can be solved with the help of UXC Limited.
1) Write a letter to the editor for your local paper. Educating your community about how the coverage gap impacts their friends, family, and neighbors is so important. It helps to remove the politics from such a complex policy issue impacting hundreds of thousands of Georgians. Never written a letter to the editor? No big deal! Email Whitney and she’ll get you started.
2) Meet with your legislator! All politics is local and for many legislators, knowing that an issue is important to their constituents makes all the difference in the world. Laura, our Director of Outreach & Partnership, can help you set up a meeting.
In December, the ACA Implementation Research Network released its Georgia state report at a policy forum held at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The report provides a detailed look at the key decisions made by Georgia policymakers around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act over the past five years. Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin participated in a discussion with advocates, policymakers, and stakeholders to reflect on the report’s findings. The conversation ranged from health insurance enrollment best practices to health system reform to what it will take to close the coverage gap in Georgia. The ACA Implementation Research Network is jointly operated by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the Brookings Institution, and the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. The Georgia state report was written by Michael Rich, Professor of Political Science and Environmental Sciences at Emory University. Download the Report.
Several health-related study committees met during the summer and fall months, and most of them are wrapping up their work. The Consumer and Provider Protection Act Study Committee held its final open meeting in November with a focus on network adequacy and provider directories. Claire McAndrew from Families USA, a national consumer health advocacy organization, and Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Health Policy Analyst Meredith Gonsahn delivered testimony on the importance of setting network adequacy standards and ensuring provider directory accuracy and usability. Look out for a final report from the committee later in December!
Georgians for a Healthy Future hit the road again recently, this time to Savannah! Along with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute and the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, we hosted Coverage and Access to Care: A Local Focus on Savannah. The event provided the opportunity to have a roundtable discussion about the health and health care needs of people in Georgia’s coastal region. We were joined by representatives from local hospitals, insurers, non-profit organizations, enrollment assisters, and interested Savannah residents for the gathering.
Guided by the chart book, the group had a dynamic discussion about how we could make Georgia’s Medicaid program work better for those who are already enrolled, as well as the benefits of expanding it to cover Georgians in the coverage gap. It was clear the attendees were eager to talk about improving coverage and access to care by closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
Our conversation also touched on the open enrollment period and the needs of consumers enrolling through the health insurance Marketplace (aka healthcare.gov). GHF highlighted our new toolkit and Health Insurance User’s Manual as tools to help Savannah-area consumers get enrolled, stay enrolled, and effectively use their coverage.
This roundtable event gave us the opportunity to learn from the Savannah stakeholders, meet new partners, and identify areas where we can work together to improve Georgia’s health care system. We look forward to returning to Savannah soon to build on this visit.
It’s an exciting time in health advocacy. The nation’s uninsured rate has plummeted over the past two years as Americans who were left out of our health system for too long have finally been invited in. Here in Georgia, half a million people gained coverage through the health insurance marketplace last year and we are working hard to raise awareness during this current open enrollment period.
But the pathway to coverage remains blocked for our lowest-income citizens here in Georgia because our state policymakers have not yet taken action to expand Medicaid. Approximately 300,000 Georgians are stuck in a coverage gap: they don’t qualify for Medicaid today and can’t access tax credits to buy private health insurance because their income is too low. Many of these Georgians are working in jobs that don’t come with health insurance. They are restaurant workers, child care workers, and even some veterans. They are our friends and neighbors, and we all suffer when they are left out.
Georgians for a Healthy Future is committed to making sure the voices of these Georgians are heard as public policy decisions are made that impact their lives. In the coming year, we plan to redouble our efforts to close the coverage gap in Georgia. This means we’ll be criss-crossing the state to talk to people who fall into the gap and to connect with community leaders, launching a digital advocacy campaign to mobilize the voices in support of closing this gap, and continuing to make the case directly to policymakers.
We need your help to do this. We need your partnership, your stories, and your voice. And on November 12th, Georgia Gives Day, we hope you will help support our campaign to close the coverage gap by choosing to give to Georgians for a Healthy Future.
You can donate here.
Your partner in advocacy,
Georgians for a Healthy Future
Georgians for a Healthy Future is excited to release our new enrollment toolkit! The toolkit is a comprehensive compilation of fact sheets, neatly organized, that are designed to walk consumers through each step of the enrollment process – from how to get health insurance (enrollment) to how to use health insurance once they have it (post enrollment). You can download it here.
Need more information like this? You’re in luck! GHF has created the GEAR Network for people just like you. GEAR is the new central hub of resources for Georgia’s enrollment assisters and community partners that are working with people to educate them on their health and health coverage options. We’ll send out weekly emails full of local resources and the information you need to know through OE3 and beyond. For more information on GEAR, check out this presentation.
Who, what, when, where and why
By Pranay Rana
Pranay is GHF’s Consumer Education and Enrollment Specialist. A certified application counselor, he assists consumers with enrollment into health insurance through the Marketplace. Pranay can also help you once you have enrolled with questions about how your coverage works. To set up a meeting with Pranay you can email him or give him a call at 404-567-5016 x4.
Open Enrollment 2016 (OE3) is less than 10 days away! Open enrollment is an annual period when individuals and families can choose from a variety of coverage options in the marketplace, apply for tax credits, and purchase a health plan that best meets their needs. Consumers can get 24/7 over-the-phone enrollment assistance via the Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 or can find local in-person assistance at localhelp.healthcare.gov. Individuals and families with incomes between 100% and 400% of the 2015 federal poverty level (FPL) may be eligible to receive financial assistance to help pay for their monthly premiums (see the chart below for what FPL means in real dollars). Consumers with lower incomes (between 100% and 250% of the FPL) may be eligible for additional help with out-of-pocket costs if they choose a “silver bars” plan. In 2015, 9 out of 10 Georgians who enrolled into marketplace plans were able to access tax credits. Consumers who do not qualify for subsidies may still be able to purchase plans through the marketplace at a full price.
So, when does my coverage start?
|Coverage Dates||Enrollment Deadlines|
|January 1, 2016||December 15, 2015|
|February 1, 2016||January 15, 2016|
|March 1, 2016||January 31, 2016|
The marketplace will discontinue subsidies for those consumers who did not fulfill their tax filing requirements for 2014 in order to reconcile their income and subsidies at the end of the year. Consumers are advised to fulfill their tax filing requirements every year and call the marketplace or local assisters for help if subsidies are being dropped without any legitimate reasons. Consumers who do not qualify for subsidies because their income is too low are also advised to obtain an Exemption Certificate Number (ECN) to avoid tax penalties.
What do I need to do to renew my existing plan?
You may simply call the marketplace for 2016 application renewal if you need to change plans for 2016 or update your information. If you are happy with your existing plan and have no updates to make then you do not need to do anything. The marketplace will simply auto-renew your application for 2016.
What if I need help?
- You can call GHF’s enrollment assister at 404-331-9981 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can call the marketplace 24/7 at 1-800-318-2596
- You can also find local help at healthcare.gov.
Federal Poverty Level Table, 2015
We know that closing Georgia’s coverage gap would help adults who are uninsured. But how does it affect families and children in our state? GHF and Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families have teamed up to bring you new research to answer that question. Key findings include:
- Nearly three-in-ten Georgians potentially eligible for coverage should Georgia choose to close the coverage gap are parents with dependent children residing in their home.
- Of those parents that could benefit from expanded Medicaid eligibility, nearly two-thirds (57 percent) are employed. Nearly half of all uninsured parents (46 percent) work in restaurants, retail, or professional service occupations.
Children enrolled in Medicaid are more likely to receive well-child care and are significantly less likely to have unmet or delayed needs for medical care, dental care, and prescription drug use due to cost.
Georgians for a Healthy Future and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute are proud to release our joint publication: Understanding Medicaid in Georgia and the Opportunity to Improve It. Inside you will find infographics, new data, and compelling charts that simplify the complex issue of Medicaid in Georgia.
Part one explains who gets Medicaid in Georgia, how Medicaid protects Georgians during economic downturns, how Medicaid controls costs in the state, and more.
Part two outlines Georgia’s opportunity to close the coverage gap. Here you’ll find out what Georgia’s health insurance coverage gap is, how we can use Medicaid to close it, and who stands to benefit detailed by job sector, demographics, and veteran status.
Part three details economic and social benefits of closing the coverage gap. Why is closing the coverage gap a good deal for Georgia and the state’s economy? What are the savings other states realize by closing the gap? How does coverage affect a person’s financial and physical health?
Download the chart book here.