Subscribe to The Pulse

Health Reform

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

‘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

Year 3 of ACA enrollment: Little growth, big penalty

Federal health officials are predicting little growth in sign-ups as Year Three of open enrollment for the health insurance exchanges begins Sunday.

Sylvia Burwell

Sylvia Burwell

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the administration expects that exchange enrollment nationally will reach about 10 million people by the end of 2016, up from 9.9 million announced in late June of this year.

More than 540,000 Georgians signed up for coverage in 2015 in the health insurance exchange, which was created under the Affordable Care Act. Dante McKay, state director of Enroll America, said Tuesday that he hopes Georgia at least equals that total or exceeds it for 2016.

The first two years of exchange enrollment in Georgia harvested “some low-hanging fruit,’’ McKay said. The remaining uninsured, he added, “may not be as easy to reach.”

Groups that will draw extra focus for enrollment in the state include young adults, Latinos and African-Americans, McKay said.

Open enrollment runs through Jan. 31. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 to have coverage that starts Jan.1. full story

Thinking of a flu shot? Don’t put it off

It’s the best time of year to get a flu shot, public health officials say. And for most people, the cost will be zero.

Georgia is already seeing some flu activity. A recent CDC report showed that while the state and the rest of the country have very low numbers of cases, Georgia’s level of influenza-like illness was higher than those of other states.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald

“We can’t read a whole lot into that [single report] because the numbers are so low,’’ Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said Thursday. More recent figures on flu activity show Georgia in line with other states, she said.

Nevertheless, she emphasized that with the holidays approaching, “now’s the time to get’’ a flu shot.

“It takes about two weeks for those antibodies to take hold and give you full protection,’’ Nydam said.

Flu activity often spikes in late November or early December. full story

  • Sign up for our mailing list.