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Health Reform

‘Navigator’ sees rising interest in ACA enrollment

For the past several months, a normal Wednesday for Kimberly Jenkins has meant meeting with four to six people wanting to know about Affordable Care Act coverage.

But as the enrollment deadline draws near, as many as 30 people a day are contacting Jenkins, seeking her help with insurance applications. She is what’s known as a health insurance “navigator” and is assigned to Wilkes and 11 other rural counties in northeast Georgia.

“People like to wait until the last minute,” said Jenkins.

YouTube Preview ImageThat “last minute” will come a bit later than many expected. The deadline had been March 31, but federal officials have extended it at least a couple of weeks into April for those who have had problems with enrolling on healthcare.gov, the federal website being used in Georgia and 35 other states.

Administration officials said Wednesday that the surge in applications ahead of next week’s deadline to sign up for coverage had led to high traffic on the federal website. They say the application surge could keep consumers from completing enrollment before the deadline at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Jenkins believes the new flexibility will give people a much-needed chance to finish their enrollment. “The extension will give us more time to do exactly what we were hired to do,” she says.

And the enrollment surge could help a local hospital that is financially struggling.

full story

Georgia enrollment edges up; feds relax deadline

State insurance officials said Wednesday that 177,668 Georgians have completed applications for coverage in the health exchange as of March 15.

clipboardThat number, reported by health insurers in the state, reflects a recent surge in enrollees from the latest figures released by the federal government. As of the end of February, federal officials said, Georgia’s exchange enrollment totaled 139,371.

The Office of state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens also said Wednesday that of the Georgia enrollees, 144,665 had paid premiums for their new coverage

The federal government’s February total did not state how many enrollees had paid premiums. full story

39th day: Votes on Medicaid, drug tests, abortion

An anti-Obamacare bill that appeared dead in the Senate apparently still had a pulse late Tuesday afternoon, the 39th and penultimate day of the 2014 General Assembly session.

But another bill targeting an Affordable Care Act provision passed the Senate as expected and now moves to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

That second bill, HB 990, would require legislative approval of any expansion of Medicaid in Georgia. The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton), who has argued that Georgia can’t afford Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents under expansion, as outlined by the ACA.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol BuildingGov. Deal has opposed Medicaid expansion as well, citing the cost to the state.

Also Tuesday, police arrested 39 people at Georgia’s Capitol during protests over the Republican refusal to expand Medicaid. The protests were organized by the Moral Monday Georgia coalition.

Those arrested chanted in support of an expansion from the Senate gallery, rallied outside the Senate doors and held a sit-in inside Deal’s office. They were charged with illegally disrupting the General Assembly, WSB reported.

Meanwhile, two other high-profile health bills, one involving drug testing of food stamp and welfare applicants, and the other aimed at prohibiting coverage of abortion in the health insurance exchange, passed a second chamber in the Republican-controlled Legislature Tuesday and moved closer to becoming law. full story

Senate busy reworking health bills

The Georgia Senate continued practicing its sleight of hand with House bills Thursday, making one vanish, restoring a second to its original form and causing a third to reappear as the General Assembly entered the final three days of the 2014 session.

Photo of the Georgia Capitol BuildingHB 913 passed the House in early March as an effort to prevent possible conflicts of interest among Department of Community Health Board members. With that stated goal, it targeted one board member in particular. But that language disappeared at a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting Thursday morning.

The original HB 913, sponsored by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), was replaced with wording from an unrelated Senate foster care bill, and was approved by the committee. SB 350 authorizes the privatization of much of the child welfare system, turning over foster care, adoption and case management services to private companies.

Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford), sponsor of SB 350, was upset that a House panel chose to amend her bill, taking out what she said were some key provisions. full story

Medicaid expansion bill gets new twist

House Bill 990 started out the day as what its sponsor called a “straightforward, one-paragraph proposal’’ — requiring legislative approval of any expansion of the Georgia Medicaid program.

Sen. Renee Unterman

Sen. Renee Unterman

But after a committee hearing Wednesday, the bill has acquired a lot of added material: It now has the original Senate-passed foster care reform legislation attached to it.

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), with a committee substitute, added the foster care language to 990 in a surprise move that reflects the late-session tug-of-war between the state Senate and House over certain key legislation, including the gun-carry bill.

The General Assembly is due to adjourn for the year next Thursday.

Unterman said a House committee Tuesday had stripped “most of the good parts’’ from Senate Bill 350, which she sponsored. full story

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