Atlanta’s biggest health contract dispute in years is over.
Grady Health System and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia announced Monday that they have agreed to a new contract effective April 1.
Their contract lapsed in late November, when they failed to negotiate a new one before the deadline. The collapse of the negotiations was a surprise, because payment disputes between insurers and hospital systems are almost always resolved before an existing agreement expires.
And the persistence of the stalemate was equally unusual. For four months, Grady Memorial Hospital was “out of network’’ for Blue Cross health plan members, who faced higher out-of-pocket costs at the Atlanta facility. full story
More Georgia children should be screened for potentially dangerous levels of lead in their blood, public health officials say.
The testing is especially important for kids in higher-risk areas, says Chris Rustin, director of environmental health for the state Department of Public Health.
But children in those riskier areas are often are less likely to get lead testing than those in safer neighborhoods, he says.
Lead poisoning is particularly dangerous for children under age 6. It can cause central nervous system damage and intellectual and behavioral deficits, among other health effects.
“The neurological damage in some cases can be irreversible,’’ Rustin says.
The most dangerous situations generally occur in homes built before 1978, which contain lead paint.
Some children in older houses “are picking up lead dust,’’ Rustin says. Children can ingest dust or paint chips or inhale lead particles. Other sources of lead include toys and imported pottery.
African-American children and kids living in poverty have a higher risk of lead exposure.
Public Health officials are working with Georgia pediatricians to publicize the importance of lead screening.
Medicaid rules require testing of young children for lead poisoning, but Georgia and other states appear to have large gaps in these screenings. full story
The impasse over Georgia’s autism coverage bill has ended.
A compromise between House and Senate leaders, announced Thursday, would clear the way for a vote on the measure before the General Assembly session ends next week.
And the first legislative step came Friday morning, with approval of a newly reworked bill by the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
Rep. Richard Smith
The compromise occurred only days after the autism legislation appeared stuck and probably doomed in the House Insurance Committee.
Senate Bill 1 would require many health insurance plans to cover applied behavior analysis (ABA), a treatment designed to help young children with autism reach their full potential in learning ability. The legislation would apply only to children 6 and under, and would not require coverage by large companies that self-insure their benefits.
A similar bill was unable to win approval last year, blocked in a standoff between the Senate and the House.
At the beginning of the week, it looked as though this year’s autism bill would also fail. full story
As merger talks continue between Emory Healthcare and WellStar Health System, a consumer advocacy group has voiced concerns about the potential impact of a deal in the metro Atlanta market.
Georgia Watch said such provider consolidation “is leading to higher prices for consumers with little to no improvement in the quality of care individuals receive.”
Beth Stephens, the group’s health access program director, also said she is concerned that the public comment period about the merger lacks transparency.
“We want to know what stakeholders are being engaged, and why consumer advocacy organizations are being left out of the conversation,” said Stephens, who submitted her organization’s comments to Emory and WellStar this week.
Emory and WellStar issued a statement Thursday that said the two organizations “remain in discussion on this initiative and anticipate providing additional information in early April. We look forward to engaging with the community throughout the planning process.’’ full story
The suburban versus rural health divide remains the key theme in the latest ranking of Georgia’s healthiest counties.
Forsyth is ranked the healthiest county in 2015, just as it was in the previous two years. It was followed by Gwinnett, Fayette, Cobb and Oconee.
All are in the northern or north-central part of the state, and all are in the Atlanta metropolitan area except for Oconee, which is in the Athens metropolitan area.
Rounding out the top 10 in the 2015 rankings are Cherokee, Columbia, Harris, Coweta and Lumpkin.
The rankings were reported in the sixth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Here’s a link to Georgia’s rankings. full story