Study committees conclude their work

Meredith-and-Claire-11.15-300x225Several 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!


Can newly covered Georgians access the care they need?

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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).



Cindy Study Committee 9.15

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.


Legislative study committees underway


The pre-game to the 2016 Georgia legislative session kicked off with the convening of House and Senate study committees last week. Study committees meet during the off-session to take a deeper dive into specific policy issues that may arise when the session gets underway. Each committee will produce a report on its findings and recommendations by the end of the year and potentially introduce legislation during the 2016 session. Click here for a complete listing of House and Senate study committees.

GHF is following and participating in health-related study committees that directly impact consumers. Here’s what you need to know.

Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SR 561)

In light of changing practices and norms in the insurance market Senate Bill 158 the Consumer and Provider Protection Act was introduced in 2015. This bill outlined provisions for consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance and created the Senate Study Committee on the Consumer and Provider Protection Act. The aim of this committee is to understand how the current insurance environment is affecting the stability of providers and consumers’ access to care. The committee consists of legislators and representatives from the provider, insurer, and consumer communities, including GHF’s Executive Director Cindy Zeldin as the consumer representative. The committee plans to examine the operations of rental networks, contractual issues between insurers and providers, and network adequacy.


The first meeting of this committee was held on September 14th at the State Capitol and focused on “rental networks,” also known as silent PPOs. The committee heard testimony from physician and insurer groups as well as from the Department of Insurance. Rental networks occur when third-party entities “rent out” physician-insurer negotiated rates to other payers. The second study committee meeting is scheduled for October 26th at Tift Regional Health System in Tifton and will focus on “all-products clauses” and provider stability issues. The committee will then be back at the State Capitol on November 9th for a meeting focusing on network adequacy and provider directories.


Georgians for a Healthy Future has identified network adequacy and the need for more accurate and user-friendly provider directories as important, emerging consumer issues. Network adequacy refers to a health plan’s ability to deliver the benefits promised by providing reasonable access to a sufficient number of in-network primary care and specialty physicians, as well as all and other health care services an insurer guarantees to provide.  GHF will present recommendations on meaningful standards to measure and ensure that provider networks are adequate, as well as how to design provider directories effectively for consumer use. If you are interested in providing testimony or input to this committee, please contact Senator Burke, the study committee chair. Please also let GHF know if these issues have emerged for communities or populations you serve so we can provide the strongest and most informed consumer voice we can on the committee.




Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health Substance Use Disorders (SR 487)

The first meeting of the Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health Substance Use Disorders convened last week at the State Capitol. The committee is charged with examining prevention strategies and identifying promising approaches to address youth Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Substance Use Disorders (SUD). The first meeting included overview presentations from representatives of the Department of Education, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA). The next meeting on October 7th will focus on ADHD and the meeting following that, on October 22nd, will delve into substance use disorders. Georgians for a Healthy Future has been working over the past two years with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse to raise awareness about the promise of taking a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention. We are teaming up with GCSA to host a lunch-time policy forum and discussion on this approach on October 22nd at the Loudermilk Center prior to the study committee’s meeting later that afternoon. Please save the date and we’ll send more details soon. If you are interested in testifying at the October 22nd study committee meeting to talk about prevention, please let Senator Unterman’s office know (you can also reach out to GHF and we can try to pass along your request).



Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare (SR 560)

The Senate Study Committee on Women’s Adequate Healthcare met to discuss the current condition of women’s healthcare in Georgia, areas with existing deficits, and the growing number of women who are at risk of unhealthy outcomes. The Department of Public Health, Department of Human Services and Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecology Society presented data and information on areas in which women’s health is in high risk, and policy options to move the needle in the right direction on major health indicators. The next meeting will be health on October 6, 2015, from 9am- 2pm, at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.


House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers (HR 640)

Committee members for the House Study Committee on School Based Health Centers met to explore the associations between health and education and ways in which school based health centers can be leveraged to increase access, provide affordable care, and produce cost savings. The committee heard from Voices for Georgia’s Children, the Partnership for Equity and Child Mental Health, and the Global Partnership for Telehealth on the details of the relationship between health and education outcomes. The committee tentatively scheduled the next meeting for September 29th and two additional meetings to follow.


Conversation on coverage needed

This column was authored by Cindy Zeldin, Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director, and originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 28th, 2015.


Earlier this month, the Georgia Department of Community Health announced that it had abandoned plans — at least for now — to seek flexibility in Georgia’s Medicaid program to allow for expanded coverage and an innovative delivery-of-care model for the patient populations served by Grady Health System in Atlanta and Memorial Health in Savannah.



While this pilot program would have been fairly limited, it was designed with the changing health care landscape in mind and in the spirit of making the health system work better for patients. The proposal relied on an integrated care model with primary care medical homes, care coordination, data sharing and a focus on prevention. The costs to the state would have been nominal — negligible, even — as Grady offered to foot the bill. That this effort is not moving forward is a disappointment, but it should not be a conversation-ender.



For years, the nation’s uninsured rate appeared stuck at a stubbornly high level. This had implications for individuals and families who couldn’t access the care they needed, for communities and health systems that experienced spillover effects, and for overall health and productivity. Over the past year and a half, the tide has turned. The uninsured rate has steadily declined, and in some states it has plummeted to less than 5 percent.



It is a time of tremendous change in health care, yet this change is being felt unevenly. According to a recent Gallup-Healthways survey, states that both established their own health exchange (or a partnership exchange) and expanded Medicaid saw greater declines in their uninsured rates than states that did neither. States that viewed the changing health care landscape as an opportunity, and the Affordable Care Act as a toolbox, to improve coverage saw far better results than those who did not.



Many states taking this “opportunity and toolbox” approach are now building on the foundation of high coverage rates to invest in prevention, improve access to care and enhance value for consumers, often in collaboration with local health care stakeholders.



Kentucky, for example, has reduced its uninsured rate from over 20 percent to 9 percent since 2013. Combined with an intentional focus on prevention, this has translated to a more-than doubling of the number of screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancer and of dental and physical exams. Other states like Oregon are developing initiatives to contain costs, improve quality and achieve better price transparency for consumers.



Of course, not every promising initiative will be a smashing success, but the pace of innovation and advancement is historic for American health policy. Here in Georgia, approximately 500,000 people enrolled in coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, an exciting development that has helped bring our state’s uninsured rate down to just above 15 percent. In normal times, with all else being equal, this would be extraordinary.



And while this achievement is transformative for the people and communities impacted, these are not normal times for the health system. Georgia’s uninsured rate remains among the nation’s highest, and our health outcomes, among the nation’s poorest. Without a more deliberate focus on coverage, access, value and outcomes, Georgia risks falling further behind other parts of the country. We cannot continue to do less with less.



The demise of the Grady experiment, while a disappointment, should be a conversation starter about moving Georgia towards an “opportunity and toolbox” mindset. To date, our state has stayed on the sidelines while others have moved forward, but we don’t have to remain there.



The evidence is beginning to pour in from around the country, and we can take the most promising initiatives out there and use them to inform a uniquely Georgia approach. The clearest evidence we have shows us the decision by the majority of states (30 and counting) to expand Medicaid is foundational in transforming the health system. The Grady initiative, while not Medicaid expansion, was at its heart a delivery system reform that was predicated on moving its target population into coverage as a first and necessary step.



We cannot make progress as a state if 15 percent of our population is uninsured. Too many Georgians fall into a coverage gap our leaders can fix. Medicaid expansion should be on the table, not as a perfect solution, but as a necessary first step.





Network adequacy takes the stage

panelDuring the 2015 Legislative Session, the State Senate established the Consumer and Provider Protection Act Study Committee. This committee will review and make recommendations around several health insurance practices, including network adequacy. GHF has identified network adequacy, or the sufficiency of the health care providers patients can access when they enroll in a health insurance plan, as an important emerging consumer health issue. Our Executive Director, Cindy Zeldin, is a member of the study committee and looks forward to bringing the consumer perspective to the committee’s work. Cindy also recently appeared on WABE and Top Docs Radio to talk about network adequacy and participated in a panel discussion along with several state legislators at the Medical Association of Georgia’s Summer Legislative Education Seminar to discuss this important issue. Stay tuned for study committee agendas, updates, and opportunities to weigh in!


Study Committee Schedule:


September 14, 9:00 – 12:00

State Capitol, Room 450


October 26, 2:00 – 5:00

Tift Regional Healthy System, Tifton


November 9, 9:00 – 12:00

State Capitol




Ensuring health coverage for all Georgians

GHF surveyed and interviewed enrollment assisters across the state to understand not only the “what,” but also the “why” behind the second open enrollment period.  The results of that research have led us to several policy recommendations to maximize health insurance enrollment and retention and to ensure that coverage translates to meaningful access to timely and appropriate medical services for Georgia health care consumers.

  1. Close the coverage gap in Georgia. Approximately 300,000 Georgians fall into the coverage gap, meaning they do not qualify for Medicaid under existing income eligibility guidelines in Georgia but their income is still too low to qualify for financial assistance (tax credits) to purchase health insurance on the Marketplace. Eligibility for tax credits begins at 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, or $11,770 for an individual or $20,090 for a family of three in 2015, while Medicaid eligibility for most adults in Georgia cuts off at income much lower. Thirty states including DC have closed their coverage gaps thus far with promising results. We encourage Georgia policymakers to take this important step as well to ensure all Georgians have a pathway to coverage.
  2. Set and enforce network adequacy and transparency standards. Many of the plans sold through the Health Insurance Marketplace are Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans that feature narrow provider networks. While these narrow networks can help keep premiums down, a trade-off many consumers may be willing to make, consumers do not currently have sufficient information to make this choice. There is no information available to consumers at the point of sale about whether a provider network is ultra narrow, narrow, or broad, and provider directories are routinely inaccurate. More transparency and oversight are needed to ensure that consumers have accurate and useful information to make these choices. It is also important that all provider networks allow for meaningful access to all covered benefits. To ensure this, we support putting in place and enforcing network adequacy standards.
  3. Encourage public-private partnerships and remove unnecessary restrictions on consumer education and assistance. Many of the enrollment assisters we surveyed indicated that reducing barriers to partnering with state government organizations such as public colleges, universities, and health departments would lead to stronger and more effective partnerships. Specifically, many respondents indicated that improved coordination between enrollment assisters, the Marketplace, and the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) to better facilitate PeachCare for Kids and Medicaid enrollment would be helpful. The “Health Care Freedom Act,” passed in 2014 as part of HB 943, prohibits state and local governmental entities from operating a health insurance navigator program and places other limitations on governmental entities. This provision has been counterproductive, creating confusion around what educational and consumer assistance activities local entities can engage in as they work to serve their community members. We recommend lifting these restrictions.



2015 legislative session review: webinar

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How much of the state budget went to health, and where was that money allocated?

Which health care-related bills passed, and what do they mean for my family and my community?

For the bills that didn’t pass, are they dead?

What study committees should I be paying attention to throughout the summer and fall?


For a complete understanding of what happened this legislative session, don’t miss our webinar.  Lobbyist Andy Lord and Community Outreach Manager Laura Colbert will walk you through what you need to know and answer any questions you may have.


Don’t worry – you can still sign up!


Date:Thursday, April 9

Time:12:00 – 1:00 EDT


Join us for health advocates day at the capitol!


informationPlease join us on Wednesday, March 25, from 8:45 am to mid-day for a morning of advocacy!  GHF will provide individuals and organizations with the opportunity to advocate for the important health issues that matter to you in the closing days of this legislative session.  You may want to advocate for closing the coverage gap, Medicaid payment parity, raising the tobacco tax, the Family Care Act, rural health care access, or another health policy issue.  You’re all invited to participate!  We’ll provide breakfast, an advocacy training, and an opportunity to share and network with other health advocates.

To sign up, click here.  If you have any questions, please contact Laura Colbert.



Weekly legislative update


Yesterday marked the 27th day of the 2015 Legislative Session. Crossover Day, the 30th legislative day and the deadline for a bill to pass its chamber of origin to remain viable for 2015, is set for next Friday, March 13th. Sine Die, the 40th and final legislative day for the year, will be April 2nd.


It has been a big week for health care issues at the State Capitol. GHF brought the consumer perspective to Senate Insurance on Wednesday and shared with the committee through testimony from our Executive Director the challenges that consumers face in obtaining accurate information about provider networks at the time they sign up for health insurance and why setting network adequacy standards is important for consumers. Her testimony was provided as part of the discussion around SB 158. Also this week, legislation was introduced in the Senate that would establish a study committee onpreventing youth substance use disorders, the Senate began its work on the FY 2016 budget, and a range of other health care bills were discussed.


The State Budget:  The FY 2016 Budget passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate. The Senate expects to finish their revisions to the budget this week and send it back to the House and then to a conference committee.


Medicaid Parity:  Last week, the House of Representatives added $2.96 million in the budget to increase reimbursement for certain OB/GYN services and $1.5 million for reimbursement rate increases for certain primary care services. Because Medicaid parity has been shown to be an effective strategy for improving access to care, GHF supports raising Medicaid reimbursement rates to parity with Medicare rates. We are advocating for a higher appropriation amount for Medicaid reimbursement rate increases as the budget moves through the process.


SBIRT Resolution:  Senate HHS Chairwoman Renee Unterman officially introduced a resolution (SR 407) to form a joint House and Senate Study Committee on preventing youth substance use disorders. Through GHF’s work with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, we are advocating for a public health approach to substance use disorders that focuses on prevention. This resolution gets the conversation started about how to do that in Georgia. Please take the time to thank Senator Unterman for her support of this effort and to let your elected officials know you support SR 407.


SB 158 (Sen. Burke) provides certain consumer and provider protections regarding health insurance, including network adequacy language. SB 158 has been referred to the Senate Insurance Committee where it received a hearing on Wednesday, March 3.  GHF Executive Director Cindy Zeldin testified in committee, focusing specifically on the network adequacy component of the bill. GHF also met with committee members individually about the bill after the committee hearing.  While the bill is not expected to move in its current form this legislative session, there will likely be a study committee on the network adequacy component. GHF has identified network adequacy as an important consumer issue and plans to remain engaged on this topic as discussions move forward.


Closing the Coverage Gap: No hearings have been scheduled or are pending to address the possibility of expanding Medicaid in Georgia. Closing Georgia’s coverage gap by expanding Medicaid would open a pathway to health insurance for approximately 300,000 uninsured Georgians, an approach which GHF supports.  Two bills have been introduced to address Georgia’s coverage gap (HR 226 and SB 38), although neither is expected to receive a hearing. Please thank the cosponsors of these bills, Rep. Rahn Mayo and Senator Vincent Fort, for their support and show your support by filling out a postcard that we’ll mail to your legislators!


Tobacco Tax:  No additional standalone proposals have been made to increase Georgia’s tobacco tax (other than HB 445 as previously reported).  The Senate however, may respond to the House proposal on transportation funding by including a tobacco tax increase to the regional average of around 68 cents. Importantly, Alabama’s Governor is proposing an increase in their state tobacco tax to $1.25 per pack, which would increase the regional average.  GHF continues to advocate for an increase to the national average by raising our tobacco tax by $1.23.  Such an increase would generate $585 million per year according to the fiscal note generated by the non-partisan fiscal office at GSU.


Other Bills of Interest

Below is a summary of bills that may impact health care consumers in Georgia, with information about where they are in the legislative process.


SB 1 (Sen. Bethel) provides certain insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders. SB 1 has passed the Senate and is in the House Insurance Committee.


HB 1 (Rep. Peake) would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana for conditions including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, parkinson’s disease, and sickle cell disease.  HB 1 passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.


HB 195  (Rep. Cooper) and SB 51 (Burke) provide parameters for substitutions of interchangeable biological products. HB 195 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is expected to come out of the Rules Committee next week, and Senate Bill 51 has passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House HHS committee, but is not expected to get a hearing until after crossover day.


HB 482 (Rep. Willard) seeks to eliminate two of the requirements that the Cancer Treatment Centers of America was subject to when they were allowed into Georgia as a destination hospital.


HB 416 (Rep.Rogers), routinely referred to as the badge bill, seeks to provide clarity and transparency for the patient as to the qualifications of the provider that they are seeing.  The bill calls for providers to identify the health care practitioner’s name and the type of license or educational degree the health care practitioner holds. The bill passed out of committee on Tuesday March 3.


HB 34 (Rep. Dudgeon) is known as the “Right to Try” bill and calls for patients with advanced illnesses and in consultation with their doctor to use potentially life-saving investigational drugs, biological products, and devices. The bill passed out of the House HHS committee.


HB 429 (Rep. Stephens) seeks to ban coverage denials for medically necessary treatment based solely on life expectancy or the diagnosis of a terminal condition.  The bill is in the House Insurance Committee.


HB 76 The House appropriations bill, provides $200,000 to continue the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in the state, which would otherwise run out of funds and expire on June 30, 2015.  The appropriations bill is currently in the Senate.


HB 504 (Rep. Cooper) would extend the flu vaccine protocol that is in place between physicians and pharmacists and nurses for adults to pneumococcal, shingles, and meningitis.


HB 436 (Rep. V. Clark) would require physicians and health care providers to offer to test pregnant women who are in their third trimester for HIV and syphilis.


HB 463 (Rep. Harbin) would permanently extend a $1,000 tax credit for “medical core clerkship” preceptors for “community based” nurse practitioners and physician assistants.


Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee issues final report

Earlier this week, the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee (RHSC), created by Governor Deal to address the needs of struggling rural hospitals and find solutions that address those needs, issued its final report. The recommendations in the report include:

  • A four site “Hub & Spoke” pilot program
  • Maintenance and protection of Certificate of Need laws
  • Expanded scope of practice for non-physician providers, like physicians assistants and nurse practitioners
  • More support for school-based health centers

The committee’s work shines a spotlight on the health care access challenges that rural Georgians face and puts forth constructive recommendations.  While we support these recommendations whole-heartedly, we are also disappointed that the committee did not address the coverage gap and Medicaid expansion in its report.


Georgia Health News interviewed Georgians for a Healthy Future’s Executive Director on this issue (click here to read the full article), and in that article she pointed to the early success of states like Kentucky, which recently reported improvements and coverage rates and in health care access due to Medicaid expansion. She also encouraged policymakers to take a comprehensive approach that includes closing Georgia’s coverage gap to help get people into health insurance and provide a reimbursement stream for rural hospitals.


Back in December, Georgians for a Healthy Future, together with several consumer and community-focused organizations including the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Georgia Watch, and Families First, submitted a report and provided public comment to the committee making a detailed case for such an approach. You can read that full report here.