The Pulse

Kaiser tops Georgia rankings once again

Kaiser Permanente of Georgia remains the highest-ranked private health plan in the state for the 10th consecutive year, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Kaiser Permanente's facility in Kennesaw

Kaiser Permanente’s facility in Kennesaw

The new NCQA ratings put Kaiser at No. 19 among 507 plans nationally. The next highest Georgia insurer was a Humana plan, at 147, and Aetna, at 151.

NCQA, managed care’s major accrediting organization, evaluates health plans based on customer satisfaction, treatment and prevention.

It also ranked 136 Medicaid managed care plans nationally. For the three Georgia plans serving Medicaid patients, Amerigroup was 32; Peach State ranked 43; and WellCare, 59. full story

What Nunn, Perdue have to say on rural care crisis

Rural health care – and what to do about it – has emerged as a political issue during this election year.

The topic has gained traction in the wake of four rural Georgia hospitals closing in the past two years over financial difficulties. Many others have severe cash flow problems, and rural counties have an extreme shortage of primary care physicians. A large percentage of residents have chronic health conditions.

Michelle Nunn and David Perdue, in a tight race for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, have widely differing solutions to this crisis.

143px-Voting_United_StatesIn an updated election guide, produced by Healthcare Georgia Foundation, the two candidates answer a new question about rural health care.

In her response, Nunn, a Democrat, calls for expansion of the Medicaid program in the state, as outlined by the Affordable Care Act. (Here’s a link to the election guide.)

Expansion “would enable over 600,000 low-income Georgians to sign up for Medicaid and allow rural hospitals to receive payments for services to people who were previously uninsured,’’ Nunn says. “By not expanding Medicaid, Georgia will lose $33.7 billion in federal funding from 2013 to 2022, while our tax dollars are spent in other states.”

Perdue, rather than implement more of the ACA, would go in the opposite direction. The Republican candidate supports a plan by U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to repeal the ACA and embrace free-market solutions to the problems of health care. full story

Is the expanded U.S. response to Ebola enough?

President Obama, visiting Atlanta on Tuesday to talk to officials at the CDC about the Ebola crisis, announced a ramped-up response as the West African epidemic “is spiraling out of control.”

The U.S. will assign 3,000 military personnel to the region to supply medical and logistical support, train as many as 500 health care workers a week, and build 17 heath care facilities in the region of 100 beds each. “We have to act fast,’’ Obama said.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg

Dr. Mark Rosenberg

The head of the Task Force for Global Health, a Georgia-based nonprofit that runs health programs in West African nations, called the president’s plan “a very good idea.’’

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, CEO and president of the Task Force, told GHN, “We’ve got to step up our effort. The disease is diagnosable, patients can be isolated to control spread, and they can be given supportive care.  In this way we can control the spread and help the affected people.  It is not hopeless.”

“There is a huge amount that needs to be done.”

More than 2,400 people have died in the Ebola epidemic. Obama called some of the West African scenes of death “absolutely gut-wrenching.”

“It’s spiraling out of control,’’ Obama said. “It’s spreading exponentially.” full story

Another important change in state benefit plan

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is dropping its Medicare Advantage plan for next year for retirees in the State Health Benefit Plan.

That means UnitedHealthcare will be the sole provider of the Advantage plans for 2015. (Blue Cross is the sole provider for 2014.)

The Georgia Department of Community Health is informing retiree health plan members about the Blue Cross move through email and letter this month, letting them know that the decision won’t affect the coverage in effect for the current year.

SHBP_CoverImage

Medicare Advantage is a health plan offered by a private company that contracts with the federally administered Medicare program to provide benefits. The majority of the 54 million people on Medicare are in the traditional Medicare program, with about 30 percent enrolled in an Advantage plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

More than 102,000 people are in Medicare Advantage plans under Georgia’s State Health Benefit Plan, according to Community Health, which runs the health plan.

Blue Cross said Monday that its decision to discontinue its Advantage plan was made jointly with the SHBP.

Still, in a comparison of next year’s rates, Blue Cross had premiums that were much higher than United’s. full story

Georgia health centers get funding to expand care

A federal agency has awarded $6.9 million in Affordable Care Act funding to 30 community health centers in Georgia that will help expand their primary care services.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

That funding was part of $295 million awarded nationally to 1,195 health centers by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Health centers are a key part of how the Affordable Care Act is working to improve access to care for millions of Americans,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in announcing the grants Friday. “These funds will enable health centers to provide high-quality primary health care to more people including the newly insured, many of whom may be accessing primary care for the first time in Georgia.”

The money will go to hiring new staff, including new health care providers; staying open for longer hours; and expanding services,  including oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services.  full story

Consumer Corner

White House tackles antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance occurs when they are used too often and lose power vs. bacterial infections.

Around the State

Albany: Open enrollment

The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act marketplace is about to roll around again, prompting officials to start another push to get young adults covered.

Read the full article:
Albany Herald

Rockdale: Insurance increase

Rockdale County is proposing “critical cost control measures” as commissioners consider a contract to renew health care coverage for county employees.

Read the full article:
Rockdale Citizen

Campus smoking ban

In a far-reaching ban, the University System of Georgia is barring the use of all forms of tobacco — from cigarettes to smokeless, hookahs to e-cigarettes — starting Oct. 1.

Read the full article:
Macon Telegraph

Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2014/09/18/3314621_colleges-snuffing-out-smoking.html?sp=/99/100/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

‘How can I not go?’

An interview with one CDC doctor who will be departing for the West African region next week to help community health care workers there fight Ebola.

Read the full article:
GPB News

Athens: Ebola public forum

The UGA College of Public Health and Athens Regional Medical Center are partnering to hold a community forum to discuss Ebola and any potential local impacts.

Read the full article:
Athens Banner-Herald

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Foundation Support for GHN:

Healthcare Georgia Foundation
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Georgia Health Foundation