The Pulse

Commentary: Don’t save unauthorized subsidies

The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act exchanges has already unleashed a torrent of speculation and opinion.

Rep. Jason Spencer

Rep. Jason Spencer

A week ago, Georgia State University law professor Erin C. Fuse Brown argued in a Commentary that the court should preserve the insurance subsidies for consumers in states such as Georgia that let the federal government run their exchanges.

Now, in a rebuttal Commentary, state Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) says the subsidies for federally run exchanges violate the ACA and should be thrown out by the court.

Spencer, while a staunch opponent of the health law, says its language on subsidies is clear and binding. “Congress stipulated in the ACA that federal tax subsidies would be limited to individuals who purchased health insurance through an ‘[e]xchange established by the State,’ ’’ he writes. “There is no more ambiguity in the word ‘State’ than there is in the meaning of the word ‘is.’ ”

Here’s a link to Spencer’s Commentary.

Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please email Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at amiller@georgiahealthnews.com

HHS chief hails exchange success in Georgia

Benjamin Wills’ dream is to open a private Christian school in a downtrodden area of west Atlanta.

One hurdle he has faced, though, was finding a less expensive source of health insurance for himself, his wife and their daughter.

Benjamin Wills speaks to reporters as (from left) Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, Dr. Michael Brooks and Sylvia Burwell look on.

Benjamin Wills speaks to reporters as (from left) Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, Dr. Michael Brooks and Sylvia Burwell look on.

Wills, 28, found an answer in the Affordable Care Act exchange. He chose a plan with a monthly premium of $370 for family medical and dental coverage — an amount that was less than what they were offered through an employer, he said.

The price and security of the ACA coverage, Wills said, helped give him confidence to establish his school, which he aims to open in August. “We want to serve others,’’ he said.

Wills and his family are among the more than 425,000 Georgians currently signed up for coverage in the health insurance exchange in 2015.

That signup number has exceeded expectations for this point in the open enrollment process. The enrollment period ends Feb. 15.

Wills joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and local officials at an Atlanta news conference Friday discussing enrollment in the health insurance exchange. The event took place at The Family Health Centers of Georgia’s location in the West End of Atlanta.

Burwell indicated that she was pleased with Georgia’s current enrollment number, adding, “We want to keep that number moving.’’  full story

Hospitals get financial rewards . . . or do they?

A majority of Georgia hospitals will get performance bonuses from Medicare for their quality of care, federal data show.

The 59 percent of Georgia hospitals getting the financial reward exceeds the national average of 55 percent, according to a Kaiser Health News article. The bonuses come from measurements that include patient satisfaction, lower death rates and how much patients cost Medicare.

Healthcare CostMeanwhile, 40 percent of the Georgia hospitals subject to the measurements are being penalized for quality-of-care problems, while 1 percent broke even in the Medicare quality category.

An official with the Georgia Hospital Association, when asked by GHN to comment on the bonuses Thursday, said, “We are proud of the fact that of the 10 states with the most hospitals assessed in the study, Georgia leads them all with 59 percent of its 99 hospitals receiving the quality bonus.”

“The Georgia hospital community still has a lot of work to do make great care even safer, but these numbers demonstrate that we are moving in the right direction,’’ said Kevin Bloye, a Georgia Hospital Association vice president.

Kaiser Health News reported that many of the bonuses nationally will be offset by hospital penalties that the government has also established as a part of the Affordable Care Act.

Fewer than 800 of the 1,700 hospitals that earned these bonuses nationally will actually receive extra money, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis. full story

With a month to go, exchange enrollment high

Federal officials announced Wednesday that Georgia’s signup total for the insurance exchange reached 425,927 as of Jan. 16.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

That’s an increase of more than 25,000 from the week before.

The state’s current enrollment greatly surpasses last year’s total of 316,543. It also indicates that the final number of Georgia enrollees may be near the half-million mark at the end of the open enrollment period Feb. 15.

Nationally, more than 7.1 million consumers are enrolled in exchange coverage, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said.

Georgia is one of 37 states using the federally run exchange. Among those states, only Florida, Texas and North Carolina have enrollment higher than Georgia’s, the HHS figures show.

State gets poor grades on fight against smoking

An American Lung Association report released Wednesday gives Georgia failing grades on curbing tobacco use.

Georgia had plenty of company with the bad grades. Most other states also received an “F” on three measures: spending on tobacco prevention and control; smoking cessation programs; and tobacco taxes.

header-logoThe Lung Association has called for an increase of $1.25 in Georgia’s state cigarette tax, a move that would raise an estimated $350 million.

Georgia currently has the third-lowest state cigarette tax in the nation at 37 cents per pack. The average nationally is $1.54, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“A significant increase in the price of cigarettes reduces smoking rates,” said June Deen of the American Lung Association in Georgia. “The increased price is additional incentive for those trying to quit and deters kids who may pick up the habit.”

Raising the tax “can provide a consistent source of new revenue for critical state issues,” she added.

Georgia did earn a “C’’ on one of the four Lung Association measures: “smoke-free air.’’ The report notes that government buildings, day care centers and schools in Georgia prohibit smoking. And smoking is restricted in private workplaces, restaurants, bars and retail stores. full story

Consumer Corner

E-cigarettes’ high levels of formaldehyde

Vapor produced by e-cigarettes can contain a high level of formaldehyde — a carcinogen.

Around the State

Measles impact in Georgia

According to the CDC, 94 percent of Georgia’s enrolled kindergartners have received the recommended two-dose MMR vaccine, which protects against measles.

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WABE

Sen. Perdue talks health care

WABE speaks with Sen. David Perdue about the State of the Union message, and whether Republicans will negotiate with President Obama on health care and other issues.

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WABE

Newnan: Soup kitchen help

A Newnan soup kitchen has plenty of food to continue feeding hot meals, but needs volunteers to help prepare those meals.

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Newnan Times-Herald

Muscogee: Justice Dept. pact

Local officials sign an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that calls for necessary reforms in the mental health care services at the Muscogee County Jail.

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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Albany: Expansion push

Phoebe Putney officials tell their local hospital authority that Medicaid expansion would make sense for Georgia.

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Albany Herald

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