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HHS chief hails exchange success in Georgia

Benjamin Wills’ dream is to open a private Christian school in a downtrodden area of west Atlanta.

One hurdle he has faced, though, was finding a less expensive source of health insurance for himself, his wife and their daughter.

Benjamin Wills speaks to reporters as (from left) Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, Dr. Michael Brooks and Sylvia Burwell look on.

Benjamin Wills speaks to reporters as (from left) Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, Dr. Michael Brooks and Sylvia Burwell look on.

Wills, 28, found an answer in the Affordable Care Act exchange. He chose a plan with a monthly premium of $370 for family medical and dental coverage — an amount that was less than what they were offered through an employer, he said.

The price and security of the ACA coverage, Wills said, helped give him confidence to establish his school, which he aims to open in August. “We want to serve others,’’ he said.

Wills and his family are among the more than 425,000 Georgians currently signed up for coverage in the health insurance exchange in 2015.

That signup number has exceeded expectations for this point in the open enrollment process. The enrollment period ends Feb. 15.

Wills joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and local officials at an Atlanta news conference Friday discussing enrollment in the health insurance exchange. The event took place at The Family Health Centers of Georgia’s location in the West End of Atlanta.

Burwell indicated that she was pleased with Georgia’s current enrollment number, adding, “We want to keep that number moving.’’  full story

Disturbing news for a group of school workers

The state agency that oversees the health care of almost 2.5 million Georgians has drawn sharp questioning over a budget proposal involving a small fraction of them.

Clyde Reese

Clyde Reese

The Department of Community Health’s $13 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 would eliminate health insurance coverage for 11,500 “non-certificated’’ school personnel, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese, speaking Tuesday to the joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee, cited a “fairly large deficit’’ that the state incurs for covering these school workers. He put the figure at $135 million in fiscal 2014.

“We think a lot of these people will get insurance in other ways,’’ Reese told Democratic Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who questioned the coverage move. He added that some may qualify for subsidies in the health insurance exchange.

Reese projected an eventual fiscal 2017 deficit for the State Health Benefit Plan, which covers more than 630,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents.

Other items of interest in the proposed Community Health budget include a total of $42.5 million in the midyear and fiscal 2016 Medicaid budgets to cover expensive new drugs for hepatitis C. full story

Legislator: Medicaid expansion may get a look

A Republican state senator said Thursday that he believes the General Assembly will hold hearings this year on the idea of Medicaid expansion in Georgia.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

“I think there’s a number of Republican [legislators] who are looking for a solution,’’ said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), after speaking on a legislative panel at an event sponsored by the consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future.

The conventional wisdom has held that Medicaid expansion would not be a topic of discussion in the Republican-dominated Legislature, which convened this week. The issue barely came up in the 2014 elections.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has been a vocal opponent of expansion, saying it would cost the state too much money. And last year, the General Assembly added an additional roadblock to such a move in the future. It passed a bill requiring legislative approval, not simply a decision by the governor, for Georgia to expand Medicaid.

About half the states have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, including some led by Republican governors. If enacted in Georgia, it would extend coverage to an estimated 500,000 low-income people. full story

Georgia exchange enrollment nears 400,000

Almost 400,000 Georgians are signed up for coverage in the 2015 health insurance exchange, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The Georgia signup total as of Jan. 9 greatly exceeds the state’s 316,543 enrollees during the first open enrollment last year. The enrollment period this year ends Feb. 15.

clipboardU.S. Health and Human Services officials, who released Georgia’s 398,781 enrollment figure, did not include details on plan design, age, or other such characteristics.

Among the 37 states using federally run exchanges, Georgia trailed only Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Since open enrollment began Nov. 15, nearly 6.8 million consumers in those 37 states selected a plan or were automatically re-enrolled in the federally facilitated marketplace, HHS announced. full story

Cigarette tax, med cannabis, autism grab attention

Raymond and Rebecca Spinelli came to the state Capitol on Tuesday looking for relief for their daughter, McKenzie.

The 4-year-old has a mitochondrial disease. That’s a condition in which the mitochondria – tiny parts of almost every cell – cannot efficiently turn sugar and oxygen into energy, so the cells do not work correctly.

The Spinellis at the Capitol

The Spinellis at the Capitol.

As a result, McKenzie suffers from neurological problems, along with gastrointestinal and muscular problems that cause her pain, her parents say.

The Spinellis came to Atlanta from their Cumming home to promote a proposal to allow medical marijuana in Georgia.

Other health care topics getting visibility in the first week of the General Assembly include proposals on autism, facility regulatory rules, Medicaid payments, and raising the state cigarette tax.  full story

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