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).
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.
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Last week, GHF was on the road again traveling to Athens for UGA’s annual State of Public Health conference. The SOPH conference is a chance for public health researchers, practitioners, and students to share and learn about the newest public health initiatives and research happening across Georgia. We were excited to be featured as a presenter among other experts, advocates, and leaders in Georgia’s public health domain.
In a workshop dedicated to the Affordable Care Act, GHF teamed up with Georgia Watch to talk about Marketplace enrollment efforts in Georgia. The presentation was based on GHF’s “Getting Georgia Covered” report, which explored the successes and barriers to outreach and enrollment efforts in Open Enrollment 2. We also previewed the upcoming open enrollment period, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, and advocated for closing Georgia’s coverage gap.
The other presenters in the workshop, including another presentation from our partner Georgia Watch, comprehensively covered the new ACA requirement for hospitals to complete a community health needs assessment (CHNA) of their service area every 2-3 years and how that is being implemented in Georgia. The workshop generated some excellent questions and constructive conversation about these two very different aspects of the ACA.
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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.
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.
During 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
Please 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.
Last month it was announced that over half a million Georgians enrolled in coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Now a new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services contains even more encouraging data about the state of enrollment in Georgia. According to the report, 31% of Georgians that enrolled were between the ages of 18-34, which is a key age group since they tend to be healthier than older adults. Additionally, 90% of Georgians that selected a plan through the Marketplace received financial assistance in the form of Advanced Premium Tax Credits. The average monthly premium for Georgians using a tax credit was $73. Click here to see the full report. Georgians for a Healthy Future’s ED talked with the Augusta Chronicle about why these numbers are so encouraging for Georgia.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the much anticipated King v. Burwell case, a case that threatens to eliminate tax credits to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces in approximately three dozen states, including Georgia.
Here at GHF, we are happy that the ACA is working and that more than 536,000 Georgians were able to access affordable health care coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during the most recent open enrollment period. We look forward to the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell and hope that it will be a positive outcome for the 461,000 Georgians who currently receive tax credits through the ACA. For now, health care coverage and tax subsidies for Georgia’s consumers remain unchanged.
There has been a lot of news coverage of the case this week and there are many resources available to help advocates communicate about the case to their supporters and stakeholders.
- The Commonwealth Fund has a series of issue briefs about how subsidy shutdowns could affect consumers, health insurers, health care providers, and states. Each comes with a summary infographic.
- The Commonwealth Fund also has an interactive map of the potential impact of a subsidy shutdown on each state.
- Community Catalyst mapped the potential impact by congressional district.
- The Urban Institute has put together a report about the implications of King v. Burwell on uninsured rates, changes in types of coverage, and costs of insurance.
If you are a consumer who enrolled in health insurance through the Marketplace with a tax credit, you likely received a 1095-A form in the mail. You may also have some questions about how to complete the health insurance information on your tax filing form. If your organization works directly with consumers, either providing enrollment assistance or helping them with tax preparation, you may also be hearing about the 1095-A and may have some questions about how health insurance and tax filings intersect. Below is a primer, replete with flow chart, which breaks it all down for you.
Where consumers get their coverage—Marketplace, employer, Medicaid—will determine the impact coverage has on their taxes. Consumers who have health insurance through their jobs will likely see no changes when they file their taxes – they just check the box on their tax forms indicating they had coverage throughout the year. The same thing applies to consumers who are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or their parent’s health plan. Pretty simple!
During this year’s open enrollment period, 536,929 Georgians purchased health insurance through Healthcare.gov and about 90% received financial assistance to help lower the cost of their premiums. To keep that tax credit, they’ll have to fill out Form 8962, which asks questions about their health insurance and their income. To help complete that form, all consumers that received a tax credit should have received Form 1095-A in the mail from the Marketplace. Consumers can also find this form on their Healthcare.gov account.
The health insurance tax credit is based on income and household size. When consumers applied for coverage, they estimated their income for the coming year and that amount was used to determine their tax credit. If a consumer misestimated their income, the credit they received may be too high or too low. During the tax filing process, the difference between estimated and actual income is reconciled, and the corresponding tax credit may be adjusted up or down. This means some consumers may get a refund and some consumers may have to pay back part of their tax credit. If a consumer did not apply for a tax credit previously, they can apply for a credit to be included in their tax refund.
If a consumer went without health care coverage at any point in the year, they may need to fill out an additional Form 8965 to determine whether or not they will need to pay a fine. This year the maximum fee per family will be $285, but fines will increase each year, up to 2% of a person’s annual income. If a person falls into Georgia’s coverage gap, they will not have to pay the fine, but will need to file the appropriate documents to prove they do not have access to affordable coverage
Household, family, and income changes should be reported throughout the year to Healthcare.gov in order to avoid surprises at tax time.
If you have questions about how your health coverage may affect your taxes, consult a tax professional. Our partners at Georgia Watch can connect you with free tax preparation help—just click here.
If you have recently gained health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, it may seem like you need to learn a whole new language to understand your coverage. Health insurance can be confusing, especially if you have never had it before or haven’t had it in a while. Just understanding a few key terms, such as premium, deductible and co-pay, will go a long way in helping you use your health insurance effectively. Click here for a simple guide to help you understand your new coverage. Additionally, if you are having trouble using your health insurance you can contact Whitney Griggs, GHF’s Consumer Education Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (404) 567-5016, extension 5.