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Health Insurance

Blue Cross keeps big edge in state benefit plan

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia will again have a dominant share of members and dependents in Georgia’s state employee and teacher health plan in 2016.

clipboardThe state’s largest health insurer will serve more than 75 percent of State Health Benefit Plan members next year with its various health plans.

This year, Blue Cross also served three in four members.

The State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) covers more than 630,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. full story

Feds vow flexibility on ramping up Medicaid

A top federal health official said Wednesday that his agency would welcome talks with Georgia leaders about any proposal resembling a Medicaid expansion plan.

smslogo“We’re open for business,’’ Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters during an Atlanta visit. The feds would be a “willing and eager partner’’ in such discussions.

Medicaid expansion, as outlined under the Affordable Care Act, extends the program’s coverage to more uninsured people. States must agree to this move, and Georgia’s political leadership has rejected expansion due to concerns about cost. Recently, though, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce launched a plan to study ideas about broadening Georgians’ access to care.

Separately, Slavitt also said CMS would be willing to look at a Medicaid “waiver’’ plan such as the one proposed by Atlanta’s Grady Health System, which seeks to cover more uninsured Georgians. He also emphasized that a waiver proposal would bring a different set of parameters and funding than an expansion-like plan. full story

HHS chief urges Atlantans to enroll in exchange

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell visited Atlanta on Friday to support efforts to sign up more people during the health insurance exchange’s open enrollment period.

Burwell, at an enrollment assistance center, noted that Atlanta is in a challenge competition with 19 other cities to sign up the most uninsured people into the exchanges, which were created under the Affordable Care Act.

Sylvia Burwell (right) talks with health insurance counselor Gloria Ortega.

Sylvia Burwell (right) talks with health insurance counselor Gloria Ortega in Atlanta on Friday.

The 20 cities have high percentages of uninsured consumers eligible for the exchange coverage, and they also feature “engaged stakeholders and leadership,” Burwell said.

The winning city — with the biggest percentage increase in enrollees — gets a visit from President Obama.

HHS estimates that more than 300,000 uninsured people in the Atlanta area qualify for coverage through the exchange, which offers subsidies for the vast majority of potential enrollees. full story

Charity clinics in Georgia save money, study finds

Georgia’s charity health clinics produce cost savings when treating patients with hypertension, a new University of Georgia study has found.

Serving patients with high blood pressure in Georgia Charitable Care Network clinics is less expensive than treating them in other settings, including by federally qualified health centers, by Medicaid providers and through private insurance, the study said.


Medical care being delivered at the Center for Black Women’s Wellness in Atlanta.

Fueling those savings are doctors who volunteer their time at the clinics for free, and the free medications given to these organizations, said Phaedra Corso, a health policy expert at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health. Corso led the study, which was funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation.

There are more than 90 of these charity clinics serving the uninsured across Georgia, the second-highest number among all states after Florida. Most of them are free to patients, but some charge a small fee. full story

‘Relationship-based’ health plan debuts in Atlanta

Free clinic visits and heavy use of “health coaches.’’

Tom Vanderheyden

Tom Vanderheyden

That’s part of the pitch made by a new insurance plan debuting in metro Atlanta. It says it offers a different model of care, with a strong emphasis on primary care.

Minneapolis-based Harken Health is launching in Atlanta and Chicago with some deep pockets behind it. Its main investor is health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.

Harken is opening six primary care centers in metro Atlanta, getting ready for its Jan. 1 start-up. The centers are located in Austell, Brookhaven, Decatur, Duluth, east Cobb County and Roswell.

This accent on primary care and wellness reflects a new dynamic in health insurance brought on, in part, by the Affordable Care Act. full story

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