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State health agency outlines spending increases

A state health agency is budgeting an extra $24 million this fiscal year, and a similar amount next year, to pay for costly hepatitis C drugs in Georgia’s Medicaid program.

clipboardThe state is also expected to pay $14.1 million more this year, and $37.9 million in fiscal 2016, for lengthening the time between eligibility reviews for Medicaid and PeachCare beneficiaries, as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Those were among the financial projections made in a budget presentation Thursday for the board of the Georgia Department of Community Health, which runs the Medicaid and PeachCare programs in the state, as well as the state employee health plan. The presentation is the beginning of a long budgeting process for the agency.

The Community Health board approved the budget requests.

The hepatitis C drugs are considered breakthrough medications for patients. One drug, Sovaldi, has a 90 percent cure rate for newly infected patients — much better than previously available treatments for hepatitis C. full story

Hotline helps connect Georgians to benefits

“My medicines cost $200 per month. I wasn’t able to get them although I had had two prior heart attacks. Now I can get my medication because of . . . Medicaid. I would have given up without your help.”

The person quoted above is one of hundreds of Georgians helped by a benefits hotline run by the Georgia Legal Services Program.

220px-Cisco7960GThe program has operated at a time that Georgians have faced “incredible barriers getting through to DFCS” to receive benefits, says Vicky Kimbrell of GLSP.

DFCS has suffered backlogs over the past year in applicants getting both food stamps and Medicaid coverage. The agency phone number has been overwhelmed with demand, Kimbrell says, after it switched over to an online system for benefits renewals and notices.

“Seniors and people with low incomes don’t have access to computers,’’ says Callan Wells of Georgia Legal Services, who helps run the hotline. “They are asking that renewals be completed online. Homebound seniors without computers are disadvantaged by that system.” full story

Medicaid increase, uninsured data show Ga. impact

Federal figures show Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare enrollment jumped 16 percent since October – the highest percentage increase among states that have rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

clipboardThe Georgia jump greatly exceeds that of the second-highest increase among non-expansion states: 9.5 percent in Montana.

Expanding Medicaid involves extending enrollment in the government program to many low-income people who had not previously been eligible.

As a group, the states not pursuing expansion saw enrollment in Medicaid and their Children’s Health Insurance Program rise by 4 percent. (The children’s program is called PeachCare in Georgia.) States embracing Medicaid expansion saw an average increase in enrollment of 18.5 percent since October, when open enrollment on the health insurance exchanges began.

The enrollment data from the Department of Health and Human Services, released Friday, are part of various studies underscoring the insurance changes created through the ACA. full story

Figures on child deaths highlight stubborn problem

The deaths of children whose families had DFCS involvement rose to 180 in 2013 from 152 the year before, an 18 percent increase, according to a state report released Friday.

But state officials and child advocates on a panel Friday urged caution in making direct comparisons with last year’s figures.

Bobby Cagle

Bobby Cagle

Bobby Cagle, interim chief of the state Division of Family and Children Services, said the state’s ability to collect data has improved.

Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, added, “Every state is reporting an increase” in deaths.

Most states are attributing the higher totals to better data collection, improved collaboration among agencies, better reporting on deaths, and increased interest from the community, Carter said.

She and Cagle, among others, spoke on a panel in Atlanta that focused on the report’s findings, hosted by Voices for Georgia’s Children and the Georgia Children’s Advocacy Network.

Each of the 180 deaths was of a child who had been in the custody of DFCS, or whose family had a Child Protective Services history with DFCS, within the previous five years.

In both 2012 and 2013, 14 percent of such child deaths were classified as homicides. These cases “are a major concern,’’ Cagle said. full story

Georgia scores low in senior health

Georgia ranks 40th among states on seniors’ health measures, according to a newly released report on people 65 and older.

Several Southern states ranked in the bottom 10 on senior health, with Mississippi at 50th. Minnesota is the top-ranked state in America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, produced by the United Health Foundation.

From America's Health Rankings Senior Report

Photo from America’s Health Rankings

Georgia’s strengths include a low prevalence of obesity among seniors; a high percentage of health screenings; and a high use of hospice care. The report said the state’s weaknesses include a low percentage of quality nursing home beds; a limited availability of home health care workers; and a high percentage of seniors living in poverty.

The report on senior health examines publicly available health data and bases its rankings on 34 measures.

This is the second year in which the report has been issued. Georgia improved from 43rd in last year’s rankings. full story

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