Blog (January 2015)
The Legislature has completed eight days of the 40-day session and will convene Monday through Wednesday next week. There will also be several committee hearings next week, including: 1) Senate Appropriations Community Health subcommittee meeting Tuesday at 3 PM in CLOB 307. The agenda for this hearing will feature testimony about the importance of maintaining Medicaid parity for primary care providers in Georgia. 2) Senate Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday at 1 PM in CAP 450 (Agenda to be announced). 3) House Health and Human Services committee meeting on Monday at 3 PM in CLOB 606 to discuss HB 47. Committee meetings are open to the public and we encourage health-focused advocates to attend. Of course, your Georgians for a Healthy Future team is monitoring legislative developments and advocating for our priority issues throughout the legislative session and we will keep you informed about key opportunities for advocacy as they emerge.
Below is a status report on the issues Georgians for a Healthy Future is supporting this year.
Closing Georgia’s Coverage Gap: There has not yet been any legislative activity in this area, as the General Assembly has been focused on addressing the transportation funding issue. Georgians for a Healthy Future supports holding hearings on the need to close Georgia’s coverage gap as a first step to achieving this legislative priority. Please contact your Representative and Senator and tell them you support holding hearings on Medicaid expansion this year.
Increasing Georgia’s Tobacco Tax: There has been early momentum around increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax, and a bill has been drafted to increase the state excise tax on cigarettes. The bill also includes a comparable increase on other tobacco products. This bill is awaiting a fiscal note from the state, which we expect to be completed by the first week in February. Georgians for a Healthy Future is proud to be part of a coalition of health organizations working on this important issue—please stay tuned for updates on this issue once the fiscal note is in!
Medicaid Payment Parity: Georgians for a Healthy Future supports maintaining payment parity for primary care providers (see this week’s Medicaid Minute for an explanation of how this improves access to care for Georgia patients) by restoring the temporary reimbursement rate hike that expired at the end of 2014. Senator Renee Unterman has proposed a $60 million appropriation for this, and Medicaid payment parity will be a topic of conversation at next week’s Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing (on Tuesday at 3pm). This hearing presents an opportunity to weigh in with your state legislators to let them know you support the payment bump and to ask them to include it in the FY 2016 Budget.
GHF celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week by receiving an award at Emory University’s 23rd annual MLK Community Service Awards. This year’s award program recognized organizations that work to address injustices in the Atlanta community, often before those injustices become headlines. Harry Heiman, out-going board chair, and Laura Colbert accepted the award on GHF’s behalf. In Harry’s acceptance speech, he remembered Dr. King’s quote: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” GHF works hard to ensure equal access to high quality, affordable health care for all Georgians. We are honored to accept this award and congratulate the other very deserving awardees.
Last year, the number of uninsured Americans declined, fewer adults reported difficulties paying for medical bills and medical debt, and fewer adults delayed care because of cost. These encouraging findings, which come from the Commonwealth Fund’s Biennial Health Insurance Survey, are great news for patients and consumers. These coverage and access gains, however, were not experienced evenly across the country. People living in states (like Georgia) that haven’t expanded Medicaid were more likely to be uninsured and to face burdensome medical bills than those living in states that have expanded Medicaid. Let’s not leave Georgia patients and consumers behind-let’s close the coverage gap!
GHF partnered with Mercy Care to kick off the legislative session by collecting the stories of people who fall in the coverage gap. As the governor was being inaugurated and our legislators were being sworn in, we talked to Mercy Care’s patients how health care coverage would help them. Everyone we talked to expressed that health care coverage would help them go back to work, take better care of their family, or better manage their health. We will be sharing these stories on Coverage Day through social media and in person as we talk with policy makers about the importance of closing the coverage gap. HealthSTAT and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council were critical partners for this story collection effort! If you are in the coverage gap and would like to share your health care story with us, click here.
This week, Cindy and Anna are representing Georgians for a Healthy Future at Families USA’s Health Action 2015 conference! We’re getting inspiration from national leaders, learning about best practices from experts and advocates doing great work around the country, and sharing our own experiences advocating for Georgia health care consumers. GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin spoke on a workshop panel about how to advocate for consumers enrolled in private health insurance. Check out Facebook and Twitter through Saturday for conference updates!
It’s budget week! Governor Deal released his budget on Friday, and legislators have been holding budget hearings all week. Here are two aspects of the health care budget that have our attention:
- The proposed budget eliminates State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) coverage for non-certificated school employees (bus drivers, custodians, etc) who work less than 30 hours a week. State officials estimate it will affect more than 11,000 state employees. We’re still sifting through the details, but we’re very concerned that some of those employees may fall into the coverage gap if they lose coverage through the SHBP.
- There is no money in the state budget to sustain the primary care reimbursement rate increase that was temporarily funded with federal dollars. This temporary bump made it easier for patients in Georgia and other states to get medical appointments and access care.
Thank you to those of you who joined us for our fifth annual Health Care Unscrambled policy breakfast on January 15! This year’s event featured two powerhouse panels: a bipartisan legislative discussion and a panel that focused on the recent experiences of Kentucky and Arkansas, two Southern states that are moving forward with innovative plans to cover their uninsured and improve population health, and featured the insights of a national expert.
This year’s Health Care Unscrambled also provided an opportunity for Georgia health care advocates, policymakers, stakeholders, and consumers to come together just as the 2015 Legislative Session got underway to focus our attention on the most pressing health policy issues facing our state, including a robust discussion about the coverage gap. Senator Dean Burke said that while last year he would have said there was a 0 out of 10 chance for Georgia to close the gap, this year he moved it to a 5 out of 10. We’re excited about these improved chances and will continue to advocate for movement this legislative session!