In July 2020, Governor Brian Kemp asked the federal government to approve a plan that would make several changes to private insurance in Georgia. The Governor’s plan is made up of two parts: 1) Reinsurance—which would help to lower premiums for some Georgians; and 2) the Georgia Access model—which would force consumers to enroll in coverage through for-profit insurance companies and web brokers instead of the unbiased and centralized enrollment platform that consumers know and trust (healthcare.gov). Federal health officials are asking Georgians like you to weigh in on the Governor’s plan. The deadline to comment is September 16, 2020. Don’t miss your chance to say how this plan will affect you, your loved ones, and Georgians across the state. After you read this short blog, tell health officials what you think.
What’s in the plan
Reinsurance is a tool that some other states have used to lower premiums for consumers and attract more insurers to their marketplaces. Georgia’s proposed reinsurance program is designed so that it would lower premiums more in regions that have higher insurance premiums. Southwest Georgia consistently has some of the highest premiums in the U.S. Georgia’s plan predicts that premiums may drop by 10% across the state, with rural areas seeing bigger drops than urban areas.
Georgia Access Model
In the second part of his plan, Gov. Kemp proposes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance marketplace (healthcare.gov). Georgians would no longer be able to enroll in health coverage through healthcare.gov. Instead individuals would be forced to enroll through a health insurer, web-broker, or a traditional broker.
Healthcare.gov is the most widely used and only unbiased place that consumers can shop for comprehensive health coverage. Consumers know all available plans will cover their health needs and they are offered financial help if they qualify and notified of their eligibility for Medicaid or other public coverage programs.
Under the Governor’s plan, Georgia consumers would be the only people in the U.S. forced to go without healthcare.gov, and instead rely on private entities for shopping and enrollment. For-profit insurance companies, online brokers, and even some insurance agents will display comprehensive, ACA-compliant plans alongside short-term plans or plans that do not cover all health services (like mental health and substance use services).
Impacts on Georgians with mental health & substance use conditions (and those in recovery)
Reinsurance: Could help make treatment & recovery services more affordable
The expected drop in premiums from the proposed reinsurance program will help to lower premiums for comprehensive health coverage (which cover mental health (MH) & substance use (SU) services), especially for rural consumers and consumers with incomes too high to qualify for the ACA’s financial help (>400% FPL). For consumers who need their coverage to access treatment services or to support their recovery, lower premiums will make it easier to afford their premiums and to cover their deductibles and other costs.
Georgia Access: Leaves consumers without access to treatment or recovery services
Under this plan, Georgia consumers will lose access to the most widely used enrollment pathway and its attached consumer assistance but will gain no additional enrollment options. Georgians are already permitted to enroll through insurers, web brokers, and agents.
Under an existing enrollment program run by the federal government, insurers and web-brokers have developed a track record of steering consumers toward substandard plans that expose them to catastrophic costs if they get sick; failing to alert or assist consumers when they are eligible for Medicaid; and making it difficult to compare plans. Because these companies are allowed to show substandard plans alongside comprehensive plans, the Georgia Access model will encourage Georgia consumers to enroll in substandard plans. Substandard plans are dangerous for Georgians with mental health and substance use needs because most do not cover mental health, and many do not offer substance use or prescription drug benefits. On top of that, substandard plans are allowed to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions and charge more for people with pre-existing conditions like a history of mental illness or substance use.
The Georgia Access model puts Georgians at risk of getting lost in a confusing new enrollment process and becoming uninsured altogether. Georgians with little or no experience buying or using health insurance (e.g. young people), those with limited English proficiency, Georgians with low health literacy skills, and people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities would be at greatest risk of experiencing adverse consequences from the outlined plan.
Governor Kemp’s plan to change private health insurance in Georgia turns back the clock for Georgians with mental health and substance use conditions. Under this plan, Georgians would be at risk of enrolling in plans that do not cover their health needs and leave them to manage their recoveries with no help. As mental health and substance use issues rise as consequences of COVID-19, this plan moves Georgia in the wrong direction.
For what is likely the last time, health officials are asking for comments from Georgians about the Governor’s plan. The deadline to comment is September 16, 2020. Don’t miss your chance to say how this plan will affect you, your loved ones, and Georgians across the state! Tell health officials what you think today!
In December 2019, Governor Brian Kemp asked the federal government to approve a plan that would make seismic changes to private health insurance in Georgia. Gov. Kemp’s plan is made up of two parts: 1) Reinsurance—which would help to lower premiums; and 2) the Georgia Access model—which would undermine comprehensive coverage for the 417,000 Georgians who now have comprehensive coverage through the marketplace and put future enrollees at risk.
Federal law allows states to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so long as a comparable number of consumers have coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as they would have under the ACA, and the changes do not increase the federal deficit. Unfortunately, the second part of Gov. Kemp’s plan does not meet this standard and poses real risks to families and individuals in Georgia.
Phase I: Reinsurance
Reinsurance is a tool that some other states have used to lower premiums for consumers and attract more insurers to their marketplaces. Reinsurance is a system that pays insurance companies for a portion of the costs of consumers who have unusually expensive health needs. When these outlier costs are shared between the state and insurers, insurers are able to lower premiums for everyone.
Georgia’s reinsurance program is designed so that it would lower premiums more in areas of Georgia that have higher insurance premiums. Southwest Georgia has consistently had some of the highest premiums in the U.S. Georgia’s plan predicts that premiums may drop by 10% across the state, with rural areas seeing bigger drops than urban areas.
If approved by the federal government, Georgia’s reinsurance program would go into effect for 2021 insurance plans.
Phase II: Georgia Access model—a bad deal for Georgia consumers
The second part of Gov. Kemp’s plan would undermine the benefits of reinsurance while also endangering the health and finances of Georgia consumers. Georgia is the first state to propose these complicated changes, putting Georgians at great risk of being guinea pigs in an unwise policy experiment. The second phase of the plan would make three major changes:
Limits the amount of financial help available to moderate and middle-income consumers and families when they purchase comprehensive health coverage. Nine out of ten Georgia consumers who purchase coverage on healthcare.gov get financial help that lowers their monthly premiums or reduces their deductibles and co-pays. Under the current system, every Georgian who qualifies gets financial help. The financial assistance helps people who make between 100-400% of the federal poverty level (an individual, $12,760-$51,040 or a family of 4 making $26,200-$104,800) by limiting their health spending to a small percentage of the household’s budget.[i]
Under Gov. Kemp’s plan the state would offer the same financial assistance to consumers but would limit the total amount of help available. The state’s budget for financial help could easily be exhausted if more people enroll in coverage than the state predicts or if premiums rise faster than expected. People who shop for coverage after the financial assistance limit is reached would be put on a waiting list and would not get any help in the meantime.
Likely impact: Some moderate- and middle-income Georgians would be forced to choose between going uninsured or paying the full price for coverage (which could be as much as their yearly income).
Erodes the requirement that insurance plans cover all essential health services and the financial protection that limits yearly health spending for individuals and families. The Governor’s plan introduces two new kinds of health plans: copper plans and disease management plans. Copper plans would feature cheaper premiums than current bronze level plans but would balance that with higher deductibles and co-pays. The disease management plans would be tailored to meet the needs of people with certain chronic diseases (like diabetes or HIV) and would have unspecified flexibility about how they cover the ten essential health benefits, like mental health or prescription drugs.[ii]
In order to offer these new kinds of plans, the Governor’s plan asks to “waive” (or set aside) two key ACA requirements: 1) the requirement that all plans sold on the ACA marketplace (healthcare.gov) cover the ten essential health benefits; and 2) the protective limit on annual out of pocket health spending for consumers.
Under the current system, the ACA limits a consumer’s out-of-pocket spending each year based on their income. Gov. Kemp’s plan would eliminate that spending ceiling, which is already too high for most Georgians to afford. Georgians are struggling with the difficult combination of premiums, deductibles, and other out of pocket costs, and copper plans with even higher (or even unlimited) spending caps would only exacerbate this problem.
|Maximum Annual Limitation on Cost-Sharing|
(% Federal Poverty Line)
|OOP Max for Individual/Family under the ACA, 2020||OOP Max for Individual/Family under Gov. Kemp’s plan|
|100-200%||$2,700 / $5,400||Unknown or unlimited cap|
|200-250%||$6,500 / $13,000||Unknown or unlimited cap|
|Over 250%||$8,150 / $16,300||Unknown or unlimited cap|
|Source: Kaiser Family Foundation. See Endnote 1.|
The Governor’s plan would also eliminate the requirement that insurance plans cover the ten essential health benefits. The proposal states that for the first year Georgia will ensure all plans cover those services but makes no commitment about later plan years. The proposal says that disease management plans will have “flexibility” around how thy cover the ten essential health benefits (EHBs) with little detail about how Georgia would ensure that these plans offer comprehensive coverage for consumers who may enroll in them.
Likely impacts: Consumers could be on the hook for drastically unaffordable out of pocket costs and they could be left with insurance plans that do not meet their needs because they are not required to cover the essential health benefits.
Dismantles healthcare.gov and instead forces Georgians to use profit-driven insurance company websites, e-brokers, or agents to shop for coverage.gov (also called “the marketplace”) is the most widely used and only unbiased place that consumers can shop for comprehensive health coverage. Consumers know all available plans will cover their health needs and they are offered financial help if they qualify and notified of their eligibility for Medicaid or other public coverage programs.
Under the Governor’s plan, Georgia consumers would be the only people in the U.S. forced to go without this resource and instead rely on private entities for shopping and enrollment. For-profit insurance companies, online brokers, and even some insurance agents will display comprehensive, ACA-compliant plans alongside short-term plans or plans that do not cover all services.
Under this system, insurance companies and brokers, who are regularly incentivized to enroll consumers in plans that offer the highest commissions, will push consumers to plans that do not fit their health needs or financial situation. They are not obligated or incentivized to help qualified Georgians enroll in Medicaid or PeachCare, or provide other safety net referrals.
This part of the Governor’s plan does not add any new ways for people to shop for health coverage (consumers can already shop with brokers or insurance companies). Instead, it only serves to shut off the most trusted and widely used path for Georgians purchasing their own coverage.
Likely result: Georgia consumers will struggle to navigate a decentralized enrollment system with numerous websites, translate the sales lingo of insurers, and disentangle conflicting information. For many, it may be harder to find a plan that they feel good about. Others will get lost in the process altogether and unintentionally become uninsured.
Governor Kemp’s plan to change private health insurance in Georgia turns back the clock to a time when consumers were at the mercy of health insurance companies. Under this plan, consumers would have a harder time shopping for comprehensive coverage, run a real risk of receiving no financial help to purchase coverage, and may find that the only available plans in their area do not cover the essential health benefits or leave them on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars.
Want to know the latest on Gov. Kemp’s private health insurance plan? Check out this timeline and sign up for email updates here. We will let you know where things stand and how you can help protect affordable, comprehensive coverage for all Georgians.
[i] Kaiser Family Foundation, January 16, 2020. Explaining Health Care Reform: Questions about Health Insurance Subsidies. https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/explaining-health-care-reform-questions-about-health/
[ii] The ten essential health benefits are ambulatory services (also called outpatient care); emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services (like counseling and therapy); prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices that help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental or physical skills); laboratory services; preventive and wellness services (including chronic disease management); and pediatric services, including pediatric dental and vision services.
Georgians across the state are being asked to decide how they will cast their votes in November for positions such as Governor, Insurance Commissioner, state senator and state representative. The decisions made by voters about these elected positions will directly impact critical consumer health issues in Georgia like access to health care, affordability of health insurance, the opioid crisis, and the sustainability of the rural health care system.
As candidates crisscross the state or their districts asking for support, voters will consider their stances on a number of important issues including health care. To help voters make their decisions, we put together this list of questions for voters to ask of candidates about five timely and pressing consumer health care issues.
These questions can be used at town halls and candidate forums or posed to candidates via social media or in one-on-one conversations.
Closing the coverage gap
- Over 240,000 Georgians make too little to receive financial help to buy private health insurance but do not qualify for Medicaid, meaning they fall into the Medicaid coverage gap. Many of the families who fall in the gap are hard-working people who work in industries that make up the backbone of our state: trucking, food service, and childcare. Do you support using federal funds to close the Medicaid coverage gap and offer affordable health coverage to these 240,000 Georgians while boosting the Georgia’s economy? Please explain.
- A 2016 Department of Health and Human Services study showed that marketplace premiums were on average 7 percent lower in states that extended Medicaid to low-income residents. Do you support closing the Medicaid coverage gap as one method to reduce health care costs and lower the uninsurance rate for consumers in Georgia? Please explain.
Georgia’s health insurance marketplace
- Health insurance premiums for Georgia consumers will rise by as much as 15 percent in 2019 due to the repeal of the individual mandate by Congress and the elimination of cost-sharing reductions, among other things. If elected, what improvements would you make to our health care system to ensure your constituents have access to high quality, comprehensive and affordable health insurance?
- The federal government has expanded insurance companies’ ability to sell short-term plans that do not cover key services like mental health treatment or prescription drugs. These plans will increase health care costs and roll back consumer protections that many families in our state depend on. How do you think Georgia should regulate these plans?
Opioid/substance use crisis
- In 2016, about three Georgians died each day from drug overdoses and thousands of Georgians live with substance use disorders regularly. To slow this crisis, a broad spectrum of strategies will be needed from prevention and early intervention to expanded access to treatment. If elected, what would you do to address the state’s substance use crisis?
Communities left behind
- Seven rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2010. Rural hospitals are often the largest employer in the area and are the economic engines that help to support local small businesses (like the flower shop or pharmacy). If elected, what will you do ensure that rural communities have adequate access to quality, affordable health care?
- People of color in Georgia have shorter life expectancies, higher rates of chronic disease, and are more likely to be uninsured and live in medically underserved areas. The causes of these outcomes are complex and linked to reduced access to quality education, fewer economic opportunities, discrimination, and other social and economic factors. As (Governor/Insurance Commissioner/other position title), how would you address the health disparities experienced by people of color in Georgia?
Defending health care gains
- Over the past two years Congress has repeatedly attempted to repeal the AffordableCare Act (ACA) and slash federal Medicaid funding that our state relies on, despite the fact that 74 percent of the public view the Medicaid program favorably. If elected, will you support/continue to support the program in the face of threats? Please explain.
Did you ask one of these questions to a candidate? Let us know! We want to know which questions were most helpful and how candidates are responding. Email Michelle Conde at firstname.lastname@example.org your feedback.
Valerie is a mother of three children living in Lamar County. Medicaid covers all three of Valerie’s children, and they rely on the health coverage it provides for their varying health needs. Valerie sometimes has difficulty accessing the care and information the family needs because they live in a rural area, but acknowledges that Medicaid is a lifeline that makes it possible for her to focus on her family’s other needs. Without health insurance through Medicaid, Valerie would have to pay hefty medical bills to ensure her children receive the care they require.
Medicaid provides access to needed health care services for low-income soon-to-be-moms, new mothers, and very low-income parents of minor children. For moms like Valerie, Medicaid makes being a mom a little easier by ensuring that their children have access to the health care services they need to grow and stay healthy. For others, Medicaid would help them get or stay healthy so they can best fulfill the responsibilities of being a mothers or caregivers. Over 150,000 uninsured women would gain health insurance if Georgia’s decision makers extended Medicaid to cover low-income adults (those making less than $16,000 annually for an individual or $20,780 for a family of three).