With just three weeks to go in open enrollment, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to Atlanta on Monday with a simple message about the health insurance exchange: “It’s not too late to enroll.’’
Her visit was part of a broad White House effort to encourage enrollment in the health exchanges prior to the March 31 deadline. Americans generally must have signed up by then or face a financial penalty under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Sebelius also made a pitch for Georgia and other states to expand their Medicaid programs. Under the ACA, the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the costs of expansion for the first three years for states that opt to expand coverage. Georgia is one of many states that have decided not to do so.
“Georgia is losing $9.2 million a day in federal funding’’ by not expanding the program, Sebelius said. The uninsured “are still coming through the doors of the emergency room,’’ she said. “In the meantime, taxpayers are picking up that cost.’’
But expansion in Georgia appears to be a political long shot, at least for now. Gov. Nathan Deal says expansion would ultimately cost the state too much. full story
For the fifth straight year, Kaiser Permanente ranked No. 1 in customer satisfaction among health plans in a three-state region that includes Georgia, according to a 2014 study by J.D. Power and Associates released Monday.
Kaiser Permanente’s facility in Kennesaw
Ranking second and third in the South Atlantic region were UnitedHealthcare of Georgia and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
The region consists of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Kaiser does not operate in either of the Carolinas but has more than 250,000 members in Georgia.
The study by J.D. Power – famous for its automobile reviews – surveyed 34,000 health plan members of 136 health plans across 18 U.S. regions. The survey targets six factors: coverage and benefits; provider choice; information and communication; claims processing; cost; and customer service. full story
Rural hospitals aren’t the only Georgia medical facilities bleeding red ink.
Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, near the world’s busiest airport, has been losing money since 2007. And in its last fiscal year, the loss was $20.6 million.
To help the nonprofit hospital stay afloat, Clayton County commissioners this week approved a package of special tax-funded projects that would bring in $50 million to help the 331-bed facility. The SPLOST has to be approved by voters.
“The hospital is in an untenable position if we do not receive community support,’’ Claudia Hall, director of marketing for Southern Regional, told GHN.
She and others say that a Medicaid expansion in Georgia would help the hospital as well.
Southern Regional Medical Center
Four rural hospitals in Georgia have closed in the past two years, citing financial struggles.
A closure of the much larger Southern Regional, just a short drive from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, would be a devastating financial blow to Clayton County. The hospital has 1,850 employees and more than 500 physicians and specialists on the medical staff. full story
More than half of Georgians with HIV are not currently in treatment, health officials say.
A Senate bill aims to bring thousands more of these patients into care.
If enacted, SB 342 would allow the state’s Department of Public Health to alert a physician of a patient’s HIV or AIDS status.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Treatments now available can help keep an infection from developing into AIDS, or can help prolong the lives of people who have already developed AIDS.
Under the bill, when someone with HIV arrives for care at a facility, and their medical data show that the individual has not had a regular blood test, Public Health would send a message to the patient’s health care provider about that out-of-care status.
The doctor would then encourage the patient to return to treatment, which includes taking a combination of prescription drugs to suppress their viral load. Antiretroviral therapy doesn’t cure HIV, but stops it from reproducing itself and spreading. full story
The 2014 legislative session was expected to be a quiet one for health care.
Experts predicted that little of significance on health issues would pass before Georgia lawmakers wrapped up a quick, tidy General Assembly session.
The predictions of a dull session were way off target – sort of like picking Denver to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Major bills on medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion, insurance navigators, autism coverage, abortion, foster care, and the Department of Community Health board have all moved through a chamber or were pending for a vote Monday. In the process, these and other health care proposals captured major legislative attention.
Monday, the 30th day of the legislative session, was Crossover Day. That’s a kind of midpoint deadline for bills to advance. A piece of legislation must have passed at least one chamber by midnight on Crossover Day to have a chance at becoming law during the session.
By late afternoon Monday, a handful of bills had moved out of a chamber with clear-cut votes.
A bill to require legislative approval for any Medicaid expansion passed by a 118-57 House vote. The main sponsor of HB 990, Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), House speaker pro tempore, said the bill — by adding another obstacle to expansion — would prevent added strain on the state budget and taxpayers. full story