Jennifer Ludlum, a Gwinnett County educator, wore a sign around her neck Tuesday with a number on it: $3,455.09.
That amount, she said, represents her out-of-pocket medical costs so far in 2014, for a visit to her neurologist, an MRI –- she has multiple sclerosis –- and surgery for her daughter.
“That’s more than I make in a month,’’ said Ludlum, who pointed out that she has the Gold option, with the highest premiums, as a member of the state health plan for state employees and educators.
Sarah Lesley and her daughters joined the Capitol rally.
Ludlum was among the roughly 100 people who rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday to protest the changes implemented this year to the State Health Benefit Plan. Those changes have sparked a groundswell of criticism from thousands of Georgians about a lack of choice of insurance plans and higher health care costs.
The rally was organized by a Facebook group of teachers, state employees and retirees that has grown to 14,000 members. Ashley Cline, founder of the group, called Teachers Rally to Advocate for Georgia Insurance Choices (TRAGIC), told the crowd that state officials chose budget savings over the welfare of state employees with the health plan changes. full story
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is gearing up to handle the transition of the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) to a co-pay system next month.
Teachers, state employees and other members of the SHBP will get new ID cards, said Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross, the state’s largest health insurer, in an interview with GHN.
Consumers may get a rebate or credit on their previous health care transactions for this year, as a result of the switch to a co-pay system. Currently, patients are operating with a co-insurance model, where they pay a percentage of the costs of a health service.
The change to co-pays will occur by March 14, but will be retroactive to the beginning of the year. State officials said the transition should relieve financial stress for many SHBP members.
Some patients may end up owing money if they have received care in 2014 and had first-dollar coverage with their health reimbursement arrangement. The Department of Community Health is expected to give more guidance on the co-pay transition this week.
The SHBP has been in a state of flux in recent weeks. Effective Jan. 1, it changed over to a single vendor, Blue Cross, and a single type of health plan. But after a flood of complaints from SHBP members about how the new arrangement was working, the board of Community Health called a special meeting and approved the transition to co-pays. full story
Jan. 1 rang in a major change for more than 650,000 members of the state employees’ health plan.
And on Jan. 2, the wife of a Cherokee County teacher started a Facebook page to voice complaints about the 2014 changes to the State Health Benefit Plan.
In just days, the Facebook page has exploded, with thousands joining the group. The governor’s office has been deluged with phone calls. Preparations are under way for a rally against the new plan.
State employees’ leading complaint is the lack of choice of health plan providers, said Ashley Cline, creator of the Facebook group, called TRAGIC, or “Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes.’’
Ashley Cline and her family
A single vendor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, is providing medical care for the plan, which covers public school teachers in the state.
Cline told GHN on Wednesday that the family’s cost for occupational therapy for her 4-year-old daughter has soared to $130 a week under the plan. The deductibles and premiums are high as well, she said.
“I get upset and angry about our situation,’’ Cline said. “People always had options in health care.’’ full story
Fifteen years ago, Georgia and other states settled lawsuits against the nation’s major tobacco companies to recover tobacco-related health costs. Total payments for the states were huge –– estimated at $246 billion over the first 25 years.
This fiscal year, Georgia will receive $347 million in tobacco settlement funds and the state’s tobacco taxes, according to a recent report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
But the state will spend less than 1 percent of that amount on programs to prevent smoking, the report said.
Georgia ranks 43rd in the country in the amount it spends on tobacco prevention –– $2.2 million –– as compared to the funding level recommended by the CDC, according to the report.
Still, Georgia spending on tobacco prevention is not dramatically low relative to other states.
The states will collect $25 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes in fiscal 2014, but will spend only 1.9 percent of it –– $481.2 million –– on tobacco prevention programs, the report said. full story
Stratus Healthcare billed itself as the largest hospital alliance in the Southeast when it was formed this summer.
Since then, health industry officials have wondered: What is this new collection of independent hospitals all about?
If nothing else, Stratus is growing. The number of its hospitals has risen in a few months from 23 to 29. They are spread across Middle and South Georgia, and many are smaller, rural facilities.
Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Central Georgia Health System in Macon, and one of the leaders of Stratus, told GHN recently that member hospitals meet monthly to discuss collaboration on clinical services, information technology, and ways to better manage the health of area residents.
Saunders said member hospitals may eventually go beyond a loose alignment of interests and conclude management agreements, joint ventures or even joint operating agreements. full story