“The public comments are important because they become part of the legal record,” said Laura Colbert, who submitted a letter opposing the proposal on behalf of Georgians for a Healthy…
On November 4, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp released a draft plan that, if approved, would drastically undermine comprehensive coverage for the 417,000 consumers who now have comprehensive coverage through the marketplace. Federal law allows states to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so long as a comparable number of Georgians have coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as they would have under the ACA, and the changes do not increase the federal deficit. Even under the most forgiving interpretation of these guardrails, Governor Kemp’s proposal fails to meet the test.
Fortunately, there’s still time to fight back! The state is required to seek public comments on this plan and will be accepting comments until December 3, 2019. Comments can be submitted online at CoverGA.org, at in-person comment hearings. This is an opportunity for Georgians to tell state leaders how this plan will impact their health and finances, and the health and finances of their loved ones.
Instead of undermining the coverage that so many Georgians rely on, state leaders should focus on preserving critical consumer protections, strengthening comprehensive coverage, investing in outreach and enrollment to Georgia communities, and working to address the rising health care costs for low-and middle-income Georgians.
Disrupts coverage for more than 400,000 Georgians with a privatized marketplace
Governor Kemp’s proposal seeks to expand coverage to approximately 30,000 out of more than one million uninsured Georgians at the peril of those consumers currently enrolled in comprehensive coverage using a risky new program.
At the center of his plan, Governor Kemp aims to decentralize how consumers currently enroll in individual market coverage in favor of private web brokers and insurers. This means that consumers would no longer have an unbiased place to compare plan options and instead would be forced to rely on private entities who would have the incentive to enroll consumers in plans that offered the highest commission and not necessarily the plan that best fits their health needs.
Likely result: Georgia consumers will struggle to navigate numerous websites, translate the sales lingo of insurers, and disentangle conflicting information. For many, it may be harder to find in a plan that they feel good about.
Limits financial assistance, increasing out-of-pocket costs
Along with dismantling healthcare.gov, Governor Kemp plans to restructure financial assistance in a way that would raise premium costs for comprehensive coverage and likely cause many Georgians to lose coverage altogether. Under his plan, consumers could use financial assistance to purchase skimpier coverage, like short-term plans, that don’t have to meet the ACA’s minimum standards. Additionally, his plan doesn’t address whether or not cost-sharing reductions would be required, which currently help to lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for certain low-income consumers. As a result, Georgia consumers should expect to pay more out-of-pocket to get the care they need.
To make matters worse, because financial help is based on premiums for comprehensive coverage that will likely become more expensive under this plan, providing financial help to all eligible Georgians will cost more than what is currently budgeted. This means that some consumers who currently receive (or are eligible for) financial help would lose this valuable benefit.
Likely result: Premiums for comprehensive coverage will rise. At the same time, fewer Georgians will receive financial help to purchase coverage. Georgians will pay more out-of-pocket when they need health care.
Weakens consumer protections
In order to allow private companies to run enrollment, the Governor’s plan seeks to eliminate crucial consumer protections. The protections that may be suspended include the requirement that insurance plans include enough doctors and hospitals so people can get care (called “network adequacy”); requirements about what information insurers must provide to consumers and how that information is presented; and mental health parity, which requires insurers to cover mental health services in a similar way as other health care. The Governor’s plan assumes these new skimpy plans will provide 90% of the benefits that comprehensive coverage under the ACA provides. There is no explanation or evidence to support this assumption.
Removing the requirement to cover the ten essential health benefits and mental health parity threatens access to critical services for many consumers with pre-existing conditions. For example, treatment and recovery services for people with substance use disorders would be threatened at a time when the state continues to struggle with opioid-related deaths and substance use disorders in general. These consumer protections enable people with mental illness and substance use disorders to obtain insurance that covers their conditions without bankrupting them. Without them, consumers will have to pay out-of-pocket for life-saving care, opening them up to thousands of dollars of medical debt.
Likely impact: Skimpy plans that do not offer basic health services like prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health services will become commonplace. As a result, Georgians will have a harder time accessing needed care and will pay more out-of-pocket.
The bottom line is Governor Kemp’s plan is terrible for Georgians. Any rational analysis will find it doesn’t meet even the laxest requirements of federal law. Georgians should weigh in today to reject this plan!
Philip is a 57 year old part-time roofer who resides in Fort Gaines, Georgia, a rural community in the southwest region of the state.
Philip suffered a knee injury along with a herniated disc in his back while repairing a roof. Because he is uninsured he has been repeatedly refused medical care because of his inability to pay. Despite making financial sacrifices to see several doctors and specialists, he has been unable to receive adequate help and get the treatment he needs. Philip says that if he had health coverage he would find the right specialist, get an MRI, and have his back fixed so he would no longer be in severe pain every day.
For the time being, Philip is able to see Dr. Karen Kinsell, the last practicing physician in Clay County. Dr. Kinsell is a volunteer physician who provides medical care to approximately 3,000 patients in a small office building that once served as a Tastee Freeze stand. Dr. Kinsell has advised Philip to stop roofing in order to ease the pain in his back but roofing is currently his family’s only income and Philip says there are no other viable job options for him in the area.
Philip believes access to health care is important and that significant changes need to be made so more people can access care. “Fix the issue, fix the problem, health insurance isn’t affordable for low-income people trying to work. Help us.”
Like Philip, 360,000 low-income Georgians, many of whom are uninsured, live in small towns and rural areas across the state. These areas have the most at stake in the debate over whether or not to close Georgia’s health insurance coverage gap. For rural Georgia residents like Philip, health coverage would open doors to the physicians and other health services that they need to stay employed or get back to work. For rural communities like Fort Gaines, more residents with health coverage could attract another primary care physician to the area.
Right now, Georgia’s policy makers are drafting two health care “waivers”. One of the waivers could be used to extend coverage to all low-income adults, including Philip and his southwest Georgia neighbors. Or state leaders could continue to ignore the needs of low-income, rural Georgians with a more limited plan.
The details of these waivers will be announced in the coming weeks and state leaders must offer online and in-person opportunities to hear public feedback. GHF will keep you up-to-date about what the waivers will mean for Georgians like you and Philip, and help you weigh in during the public comment periods!
Your story is powerful! Stories help to put a human face to health care issues in Georgia. When you share your story, you help others understand the issue, its impact on Georgia, and why it’s important.
Your health care story is valuable because the reader may be your neighbor, friend, someone in your congregation, or your legislator. It may inspire others to share their stories or to become advocates. It is an opportunity for individuals who receive Medicaid or fall into the coverage gap, their family members, their physicians and concerned Georgia citizens to show that there are real people with real needs who will be impacted by the health policy decisions made by Congress and Georgia’s state leaders.
Share your story here!
In March 2019, Georgia lawmakers approved SB 106, the Patients First Act. The new law allows Georgia to use two kinds of health care waivers to make changes to health coverage in the state. These waiver plans could affect you, your friends, family, neighbors, and Georgians all across the state and the way you access and pay for health care.
(Waivers allow a state to set aside or “waive” certain requirements imposed by the federal government and try new models of providing health coverage and care.)
The state has hired Deloitte as a consultant to work with state leaders to develop the waiver plans. Georgia’s decision-makers have proposed an aggressive timeline and aim to finalize the waiver plans by the end of 2019.
Two types of waiver plans
Two types of plans are being developed by state leaders: an 1115 waiver and a 1332 waiver. An 1115 waiver allows Georgia to make changes to the state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid is the state’s health insurance program that covers kids, some low-income parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, and pregnant women. SB 106 limits the 1115 waiver to cover people making up to the poverty line (about $12,000 a year for an individual or $26,000 for a family of four). Medicaid expansion, which GHF has advocated for, would extend public coverage to people with incomes just above the poverty line (138% of the federal poverty line.) A successful way to use an 1115 waiver would be to cover everyone under the poverty line and exclude barriers to coverage such as burdensome paperwork requirements, confusing cost-sharing, or counterproductive lock-out periods.
A 1332 waiver allows the state to make changes to private insurance and the health insurance marketplace. About 450,000 Georgians buy their health coverage through the marketplace. Most of these Georgians receive federal tax credits to cover some or all of their premium costs. (Another 827,600 of Georgians are eligible for private coverage and financial help to buy it but have not yet enrolled.) A successful way to use a 1332 waiver is to establish a “reinsurance program” to reduce premium costs. This waiver should also ensure all plans continue to cover the essential health benefits (like prescription drugs) and maintain protections for people with preexisting conditions.
You can weigh in!
Now is the time to ensure that Georgia gets a plan that will provide comprehensive coverage to as many people as possible. Thousands of Georgians across the state could gain health care coverage through the Patients First proposals. While positive intentions have been expressed by Georgia’s elected officials about the forthcoming waivers, none has yet committed to ensuring all Georgians have a pathway to comprehensive, affordable coverage.
For every 1115 and 1332 waiver that the state wants to pursue, Georgia’s policymakers must seek input from the public. Because there are required state and federal public comment periods for each waiver proposal, there will be at least four public comment periods (a state and federal period for an 1115 waiver and a state and federal period for a 1332 waiver). These are your chances to help shape and influence health care in Georgia!
GHF and our Cover Georgia partners will let you know when the public comment periods begin and end and we will provide an easy way for you to have your say. Make a plan to submit comments during every public comment period so that state leaders know how their ideas will impact you and your family! Your story can help make a difference for thousands of Georgians and can support positive changes in health care coverage.