Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan at Task Force on Healthcare Access and Cost meeting

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Sen. Gloria Butler, D–Stone Mountain, listen to presenters at the Task Force on Healthcare Access and Cost meeting on Oct. 9.

A group of Georgia lawmakers and health care stakeholders continued their deep dive into Georgia’s health care system on Wednesday.

The Task Force on Healthcare Access and Cost held its second meeting at the state capitol aimed at examining cost reduction measures and barriers to health care access in the state.

Members of the task force, which consists of medical professionals and lawmakers, heard debate about virtual care and other ways to streamline and monitor health care costs.

“Truly the input that we have had is something that hopefully –  we are going to continue to gain momentum,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who leads the task force.

Georgia's health care system ranks 46th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to financial website Wallethub. The task force will finalize a plan to revamp the system ahead of the 2020 legislation session. The next and final meeting is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Steve Manders, director of Georgia's Division of Insurance Product Review, said his office needs to develop a database to keep track of insurance claims and seek other ways to be innovative.

Manders said the agency could “get a good handle on the utilization in the state and the average claim cost” with the establishment of a claim database. The patients’ identity would be hidden based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects personal data.

The state’s health care system lacks innovation, Manders said, and innovation has been stifled even more under Affordable Health Care Act regulations.

“The federal law limits how you can rate. You cannot rate on experience under federal law,” he said. “You can only rate based on the expense savings in your network.”

Sticking with the topic of innovation, many of the speakers pointed to virtual care as a way to expand coverage to rural areas and other regions that lack “brick and mortar” facilities. 

Wendell Strickland, CEO of consulting firm Strongside Solutions, said the state could save $1.4 billion a year by using cost containment programs to streamline medical costs for government employees. 

The state spent $4.4 billion on health care plans for 354,440 employees in 2018, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health. Strickland said by breaking up the different elements of medical plans into individual pieces, it would be easier to renegotiate prices hence shaving off hundreds of millions of dollars.

Carmen Daniel, director of the Department of Public Health’s Georgia Shape program, said businesses can also save money by offering worksite wellness programs, developed by DPH.

The majority of the state’s population, said Daniel (about 4.9 million people, according to the Department of Labor) are employed in Georgia. Worksite wellness programs could bring health education classes, access to fitness facilities, preventive care and healthy food options to workers.

“We know that a majority of our population is in the workforce, so it makes sense to reach them while they’re at work,” she said.

Staff Writer

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.