The Pulse

A few words could affect millions of people

Benjamin Wills of Atlanta is among the more than 400,000 Georgians receiving a subsidy to afford health insurance in the Affordable Care Act exchange.

With the subsidy, Wills is paying a monthly premium of $370 for family medical and dental coverage through the exchange.


Benjamin Wills

If he loses the subsidy, Wills said Wednesday, he could be forced to drop his family’s dental coverage, and perhaps re-enroll his daughter in the government PeachCare program.

“The way [the ACA] is now is working for our family,’’ said Wills, who recently left a job with benefits to start a private Christian school in Atlanta.

The fate of the insurance subsidies – and the future of the Affordable Care Act in general – were on the line as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the legality of the credits in the exchanges in Georgia and 36 other states.

This case, King v. Burwell, is not officially a challenge to the ACA. Instead, the plaintiffs in the case say the law is not being followed. They argue that the subsidies, which help people afford coverage, are not permitted by the health law in the 37 states that have federally operated insurance exchanges.

After more than an hour of arguments in the case Wednesday, the justices appeared divided over the subsidies issue. full story

Legislators look at overhauling insurance laws

Georgia lawmakers considered insurance bills Wednesday that would create major changes in health plan networks in the state.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee first heard testimony on Senate Bill 143, which would require the state employee and teacher health plan to include the state’s five Level 1 trauma centers as “in-network” facilities.

That would help Grady Health System, a trauma center in Atlanta that is now “out-of-network” for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia members.

Blue Cross is the main insurer in the State Health Benefit Plan. So approval of Senate Bill 143 would make Grady in-network for the plan’s 630,000 members.

The state of Georgia has similar requirements with the health plans that serve Medicaid and PeachCare members, said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), lead sponsor of the bill. full story

Program for pregnant women can be a lifesaver

Lakizzy Carson’s first child, a boy, was born several weeks premature, weighing only 1 pound, 5 ounces. He needed hospital care for several weeks after his birth before he was able to go home.

Clayton County

Clayton County

It was not the kind of experience that Carson, of Clayton County, wanted to repeat. When she was pregnant with her second child, in 2012, she enrolled in a local health program intended to reduce premature births and infant mortality.

“I wanted help to guide me,’’ says Carson, now 37. She adds that she has what is known as an “incompetent cervix,” one with a tendency to weakness that can cause or contribute to premature birth or the loss of an otherwise healthy pregnancy.

Public Health officials in the county gave Carson information about nutrition, prenatal care and other resources.

“They gave me a whole lot of attention,” Carson says. “They kept me sane.’’

The second child, Jasmine, was born premature at 36 weeks, but she was able to go home with her mother.

Clayton County has been working on improving its infant mortality statistics for several years, targeting women such as Carson.

And the county, just south of Atlanta, recently received a $3.5 million award over five years from the federal Healthy Start grant program. full story

Food program for kids goes beyond the classroom

Every Thursday morning, more than 100 bags of nutritious food are prepared at an old brick building in rural Oconee County.

From there, volunteer drivers take the bags to schools in the county, where teachers and other school officials drop them into the backpacks of children (grades K-12) while the kids are out of the classroom. If not for the bags, many of these children might go hungry over the weekend.

“A lot of kids count on a free or reduced breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, but when they go home on the weekend there’s no cafeteria,” says Tyler Boykin, a counselor at North Shoals High School, who helps to identify students in need of the program.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

Volunteer students prepare the Food for Kids bags.

“It gives the kids who don’t have enough to eat some reassurance that they’re going to be OK over the weekend,” says Boykin.

Nearly 4,000 food bags were delivered in the 2013-14 school year.

It’s no mystery that a properly nourished student is a better prepared student. “When kids come into the classroom hungry, they aren’t ready to learn,” says Cindy Pritchard, director of the Food for Kids program. full story

Georgia Medicaid official picked for top job

The Department of Community Health has tapped a current official to become the state’s new Medicaid chief.

Linda Wiant has served as pharmacy director for Georgia Medicaid since August 2011.

Linda Wiant

Linda Wiant

Her new appointment is effective March 16. She replaces Jerry Dubberly, who left the position of Georgia Medicaid director in January to take a job in the private sector.

“I believe Linda has the temperament, experience, perspective and approach to be a strong and effective leader of Georgia’s Medicaid program in this critical era of transformation of our nation’s health care system,” said Clyde Reese, commissioner of Community Health. “I am confident in her ability to work under the leadership of Governor [Nathan] Deal and my direction to shepherd the program into the future. I appreciate her willingness to assume this important role.”

As pharmacy director, Wiant has had daily responsibilities including oversight of the pharmacy claims processing system, the Pharmacy Benefit Manager, and a drug rebate program.

As Medicaid chief, Wiant will oversee services for about 1.9 million Georgians in Medicaid and PeachCare (the children’s health insurance program), with a state budget of more than $2.5 billion. full story

Consumer Corner

Hospital ratings differ on best and worst

Rating systems used to judge hospitals often come to very different conclusions.

Around the State

Emory Alzheimer’s grant

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A computer program provides speech treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions.

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Split over cannabis legislation

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Gainesville Times

Shooting victim recovering

Family members of a security guard who survived a shooting rampage at a FedEx facility last year have provided some hopeful news about his condition.

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