The Pulse

Georgia exchange applications hit 220,000

Georgia insurers received more than 220,000 applications for health coverage in the Affordable Care Act’s exchange as of the official federal deadline of March 31, state officials said Wednesday.

Ralph Hudgens

Ralph Hudgens

Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, though, said premiums have been received for only 107,581 of those policies, which cover 149,465 people.

“Many Georgians completed the application process by the deadline, but have yet to pay for the coverage,” Hudgens said in a statement Wednesday.

March 31 was the official deadline for individuals to get insurance coverage or face a financial penalty under the ACA. Yet because of the deluge of last-minute shoppers, federal officials relaxed the rules for those who reported having trouble with the exchange, and gave them into this week to sign up.

Given that extra time, there have presumably been more Georgians both signing up and paying for their premiums in April. They would not be included in the figures released Wednesday. full story

State seeking more choice in 2015 health plan

State officials said Tuesday that they plan to increase the number of insurers and health plan options for state employees and teachers next year.

The State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) has been a target of fierce criticism since Jan. 1. That’s when changes to its benefit design, plus the use of just one insurer, sparked widespread complaints about a lack of choice of insurance plans and higher health care costs.

Sarah Lesley and her daughters joined a Capitol rally in February against the change in the state health plan.

Sarah Lesley and her daughters joined a Capitol rally in February over the state health plan.

Now, though, the Department of Community Health is asking for proposals for a second statewide insurer to offer a high-deductible health plan, a Medicare Advantage plan for retirees, and a statewide HMO.

The current single insurer for SHBP, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, would retain its health reimbursement arrangement plans and Medicare Advantage plans, plus add a statewide HMO option for the 2015 plan year. A third insurer would offer a fully insured in-network-only option for metro Atlanta, under the Community Health plan.

“SHBP is looking to enhance member choice in the 2015 plan year,” said DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese in a statement

The State Health Benefit Plan covers 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. With those numbers, the plan’s members can be a political force in an election year such as this one. When many of them began to complain about this year’s plan, and some began to organize, the state moved swiftly to amend it. full story

Standalone rural ERs face a serious hurdle

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to help financially ailing rural hospitals, announced last month, has drawn strong praise from legislators and health industry leaders.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese

Clyde Reese

Deal proposed a change in licensing rules to permit a struggling rural hospital, or one that recently closed, to offer downsized services that would include an emergency department.

But a drawback has emerged – one that, if unchanged, may lower the chances of these freestanding ERs being built.

Such facilities, as proposed, would not be able to bill Medicare or Medicaid at the current hospital rates, but would have to bill those programs at a lower “provider’’ rate.

Clyde Reese, commissioner of the Department of Community Health, told GHN on Tuesday that it may take legislation, or regulatory approval from federal health officials, to create a format so these freestanding rural facilities would draw higher reimbursements than is now possible. full story

FTC seeks more time on Phoebe decision

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday requested 60 days beyond a previous deadline to decide whether to sign off on its 2013 antitrust settlement with an Albany hospital system.

Monday was the FTC’s deadline to finalize the agreement with Phoebe Putney Health System. But in a filing in U.S. District Court, the agency asked the court for more time.

In the filing, the FTC asked the court to give it until June 13 — or until 30 days after a state agency determines whether a potential divestiture of the Albany hospital that Phoebe Putney acquired in 2011 would require regulatory approval — whichever date is earlier.

The state agency’s decision could be pivotal to whether the FTC goes through with the settlement or resumes its legal battle in the high-profile antitrust case. full story

Drop in federal funds squeezes public health

The state budget recently delivered good news for Georgia public health: an overall increase in funding.

But behind those numbers are other numbers that have alarmed public health officials.

Dr. Georges Benjamin

Dr. Georges Benjamin

About 70 percent of the overall budget for the Department of Public Health comes from federal grants. And that federal money has seen significant reductions.

From fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013, across all programs, Public Health lost about $25 million in federal money. And that drop has continued.

Almost all Health and Human Services and Homeland Security grants have been cut, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“It looks like we’re going to see ongoing [federal] cuts,’’ O’Neal told GHN in a recent interview. “It keeps us up at night.”

All states have suffered federal reductions to public health programs, according to the American Public Health Association. full story

Views on Health Care

U.S. Senate hopefuls tackle the issues (here's the link to candidates' survey)



Around the State

Medical scholarship bill signed

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signs legislation  to expand a scholarship program that will enable more medical students to practice in high-need areas.

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Associated Press

Richmond: TB testing

The Richmond Health Department will begin testing students at Hephzibah High for TB exposure next week after one student showed symptoms of the disease.

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Augusta Chronicle

Atlanta: Shepherd upgrade

The Shepherd Center plans to spend $12.8 million on renovations and equipment purchases.

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Atlanta Business Chronicle

DBHDD revisions signed

Gov. Nathan Deal flies into Albany to sign into law Senate Bill 349, which revises the functions of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

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Albany Herald

Carroll: Gun law discussed

A comprehensive gun carry law and drug testing for food stamp recipients were discussed by local lawmakers at a Carroll County Tea Party meeting.

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Carrollton Times-Georgian

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