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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

Will Ga. hospital group go to bat for expansion?

Unlike its counterparts in other states, the Georgia Hospital Association has not been seen as actively advocating for Medicaid expansion.

A number of states have expanded their Medicaid programs, making more low-income people eligible for benefits and thus helping hospitals financially by reducing their numbers of uninsured patients.

Hospital Outpatient Entrance SignBut expansion has gone nowhere in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal and his fellow Republicans who dominate the General Assembly have made a point of blocking such a move, saying it would cost the state too much money.

Just last week, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston slammed the door on the idea once again. “I haven’t heard any widespread regret in Georgia on our decision not to expand Medicaid,” said Ralston, as reported by Tom Crawford in his Georgia Report.

But in recent days, Georgia’s biggest hospital association has crafted a proposal to the state that would include Medicaid expansion, and the group says the plan would be both beneficial and fiscally wise.

The GHA proposal, obtained by Georgia Health News,  calls for the state to take advantage of the federal government’s commitment to absorb 100 percent of the costs of expanding the program until 2017.

The plan urges the state to use $6.1 billion in federal funds to extend coverage for uninsured Georgians, with services delivered through the existing Medicaid managed care companies for two state fiscal years.   full story

Panel urges reforms in child welfare system

Creating a child abuse registry, adding pay incentives for DFCS caseworkers, and developing a “panic button’’ to increase safety for workers in the field.

Bobby Cagle

Bobby Cagle

Those are among the recommendations of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Child Welfare Reform Council, whose final report was released Friday.

Deal told a news conference at the state Capitol that protecting Georgia’s children is the ultimate goal of the council’s proposals.

“As we enter the 2015 legislative session, these recommendations will provide a framework for strengthening the system and allow us to better serve our state’s children and those who work to protect them,’’ Deal said in a statement. “Every child deserves his or her best shot at a good life, and the work of this council is a step toward providing just that.”

The Georgia General Assembly will begin its annual session on Monday.

DFCS Commissioner Bobby Cagle told reporters Friday that Georgia’s goal is to lower caseloads for child welfare workers — to 15 cases per worker. Currently, Cagle said, the average is 22 cases for every caseworker, though he noted that the ratio can vary by county. full story

Innovative mental health program short on funds

Mental health experts in Georgia say federal spending cuts will weaken a program that trains ordinary citizens to provide “first aid” for a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

logo-drop-shadow-2xThe December 2012 Connecticut school massacre moved mental health issues up the agenda for the Obama administration and Congress. (Despite this Connecticut case, people with mental illness are generally not violent, experts say.)

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Congress increased the budget of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency whose job is to reduce the community impact of substance abuse and mental illness.

In 2014’s omnibus budget, Congress also set aside $15 million for a community based awareness program called Mental Health First Aid.

But SAMHSA’s total budget in 2015 will be cut by about $40 million, and Georgia will feel it.

“Any time there’s a cut for mental health funding, it hurts everyone,” said Ellyn Jeager, director of public policy and advocacy at Mental Health America of Georgia. full story

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