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Health Reform

Many Georgians pay bargain ACA rates, report says

Georgia’s average premium for insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange is the second-lowest among the 36 states using the federally run marketplace, according to a report released Wednesday.

clipboardGeorgians who qualified for subsidies or discounts for coverage are paying an average of $54 per month, the report said. Their average premium is $341, but they also get the immediate subsidy or tax credit of $287.

Only Mississippi, with an average premium of $23 a month, is lower.

Nationally, the consumers who selected silver plans, the most popular plan type in the federal exchange, are paying an average premium of $69 per month, counting the tax credits. Georgians picking silver plans pay an average of $39 a month.

The low premiums in Georgia may be largely due to a high number of purchasers having low incomes – and thus are getting substantial subsidies to afford coverage, said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University. He pointed to the fact that the average premium in Georgia of $341 is just $5 a month lower than the U.S. average. full story

Georgia exchange may get another big player

UnitedHealthcare says it’s considering offering health plans in Georgia’s insurance exchange for 2015.

The giant insurer’s potential entry into the state’s exchange could increase competition in terms of premiums and choice of medical providers.

lb_uhc-logoState exchanges, required under the Affordable Care Act, are designed to help consumers find and purchase health coverage. They can be run by either the individual state or the federal government. Georgia, like most other states, has opted for federal administration.

Last year, just five health insurers offered plans in the Georgia exchange. They were Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Humana, Alliant, and Peach State.

Minnesota-based UnitedHealth sells health plans in just five exchanges now, but its executives previously have said they expected to expand their offerings in 2015, Bloomberg News recently reported. full story

Looking for answers to the rural health care crisis

Four hospitals have closed in the past two years. Many areas can’t attract doctors, or have trouble keeping the ones they have. Some counties are without a hospital or other critical health services.

Rep. Terry England

Rep. Terry England

Those rural health care problems in Georgia were among the issues discussed at the initial meeting Monday of the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, recently appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The panel was created to identify the needs of rural facilities and offer potential solutions. Members include hospital leaders, physicians and state lawmakers.

“The task is not going to be an easy one,’’ said state Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), a panel member who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. “We’re open to a lot of different ideas and solutions.”

Possible remedies include a new initiative for a financially troubled hospital to downsize into a freestanding rural emergency department.

One strategy that went without much discussion was expanding the state’s Medicaid program. full story

State disputes report of big jump in Medicaid

Earlier this month, a consulting firm reported that Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs saw a huge enrollment spike of 98,800 in the first three months of 2014.

clipboardAvalere Health said the rise in beneficiaries for Georgia and 16 other states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs was due largely to the “woodwork effect.’’

That’s when increased outreach sparked by the Affordable Care Act encourages individuals who were already eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid to “come out of the woodwork’’ and sign up for it.

Georgia recorded the biggest enrollment increase among the 17 states from January through March, Avalere reported.

But the Georgia Department of Community Health, responding to a GHN request, has released a much lower enrollment increase for the first three months this year: 37,047. full story

ACA likely to dominate race for insurance post

With crowded, high-profile contests for a U.S. Senate seat and the governorship, most Georgia voters are not focused on who’s running for the state insurance commissioner post.

The party primaries are May 20, but early in-person voting began on April 28. Once the nominees are chosen, the insurance commissioner race is expected to attract more voter interest. The general election is set for Nov. 4.

143px-Voting_United_StatesRalph Hudgens is the incumbent commissioner and is running unopposed on the Republican ballot. Keith Heard and Elizabeth (Liz) Johnson – two longtime insurance agents – are competing for the Democratic nomination.

Now that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has made health coverage a hot political issue, both Democratic contenders are emphasizing their firsthand insurance experience as a key qualification for the state position.

But Hudgens said he doesn’t believe such experience makes the two challengers qualified. “Being an insurance agent really is not important,” Hudgens told Georgia Health News in an interview. In his view, the insurance commissioner position is “about knowing how to be an administrator.” full story

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