North Fulton Community Charities, a non-profit human service agency that assists families in need in North Fulton County, invited Georgians for a Healthy Future to present our Medicaid chart book to its community leaders. Board members, city and county council people, and state legislators were in attendance, along with interested community members. We had a constructive conversation with participants about how Georgia can close the coverage gap. If your organization, church, or community group would like us to present at your next meeting (either about closing the coverage gap or about helping people enroll in health insurance), contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Read the full report here.
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.
We (Consumer Education Specialist, Whitney Griggs, and Community Outreach Manager, Laura Colbert) made the drive to Augusta this week to check in with health care stakeholders and consumers in the northeast Georgia city. We were warmly welcomed by community partners and are excited to return for next week’s community forum Coverage and Access to Care: A Local Focus on Augusta.
Our primary purpose for the trip was to attend the Greater Augusta Health Network’s (GAHN) fall forum. The forum covered a variety of topics, including how the local District 13 Department of Public Health provides much needed direct patient services to people in its service areas, GAHN’s on-going health care utilization data collection efforts, and the Affordable Care Act’s effect on small employers (51 to 99 employees).
The forum closed with a discussion panel of indigent care providers, including Medical Associates Plus, St. Vincent de Paul health clinic, and Christ Community Health Services. These providers described their determined efforts to provide care for Augustans who cannot afford health insurance or pay for their health care. Mentioned by all three panelists was the need to close Georgia’s coverage gap. Every day each clinic serves people who need health care coverage, like veterans who can’t get are at the VA. The clinics are able to do this work only because of generous donations and profits from a few insured patients. While these charity care clinics are doing amazing work, they say that they cannot provide all the care that is needed for Augustans in the coverage gap. Each of the panelists made the case that closing the coverage gap would be great for their patients and clients, and for their clinics.
Christ Community Health Services generously hosted us in the afternoon, so we could talk to their patients about why closing the coverage gap is important to them. One of the patients they talked to was Tracy. Tracy has chronic pain in her back, and is managing anxiety and depression brought on by her back pain. Her pain makes it impossible for her to sit at a computer to do her graphic design work, which means she has no income and no health care coverage. Tracy is stuck in the coverage gap. Her mother, Maria, pays what she can for Tracy’s care and drives her to and from appointments. Tracy told us that she isn’t asking for a hand-out, she “just wants the public benefits that I paid into when I was working.”
It was clear from our visit that closing the coverage gap is an important issue to health care stakeholders and consumers in Augusta. To learn more about the coverage gap in Augusta and in Georgia, join us for a community forum next Thursday, September 24th.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
While Georgia has made little progress on closing its coverage gap, the subject is a hot topic elsewhere.
- Montana has closed its coverage gap! As the 29th state to close the gap, Montana will provide 70,000 Montanans with quality, affordable health care coverage. The state is currently working with CMS to gain approval for its expansion proposal.
- Face Off in Florida–The debate over closing the coverage gap is as hot as sunburnt skin after spring break! Floridians have seen a sudden and unexpected adjournment of the legislative session, a stand-off with HHS over the low-income pool (LIP), and their governor file suit against the federal government. The debate is far from over as the legislature plans to reconvene in June to complete their legislative responsibilities.
- Policy makers in both Alaska and Louisiana are discussing if and how to close their coverage gaps. While their legislators debate whether or not to close the coverage gap during a special session, polls show that Alaskans are hugely in favor of the policy. In Louisiana, Gov. Jindal remains opposed to the idea of closing his state’s coverage gap, but legislators are discussing their options.
While Montana closes its gap and other states think through their options, more and more studies are revealing that closing the coverage gap is good for states! It saves money in state budgets and facilitates job growth, especially in the health care sector. Families USA summarized the new data in a recent blog post.
By Em Elliott, Jeff Graham, and Amanda Ptashkin
Georgia Equality and Georgians for a Healthy Future have been working together within the larger Cover Georgia coalition to educate and advocate on the issue of Medicaid in Georgia. Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option to create a new category of eligibility for Medicaid to cover low-income individuals and families, financed almost entirely with federal dollars. Implementing this expansion is the only viable way to cover Georgia’s low-income uninsured, and it will pump resources into our state’s healthcare delivery system. Many other states are also advocating for expansion and Community Catalyst, a national health care reform advocacy organization, came to us with some questions around advocacy, lessons on collaborative partnerships, and the way this issue effects the LGBTQ community.