Over half of debt collection actions contain medical debts, leading to food and housing insecurity, as well as bankruptcy for many consumers. Medical debt strikes insured and uninsured people alike. In Georgia, where our rate of uninsured individuals is third in the nation and our lawmakers have refused Medicaid expansion, medical debt traps already cash-strapped Georgians into a cycle of poverty. Southwest Georgia, in particular, has some of the highest insurance premiums in the country due primarily to the lack of competition among providers and insurers. This level of consolidation leaves consumers with little choice about where to seek care and incentivizes predatory medical billing practices.
The Community Benefit and Economic Stability Project (CBES) (led by Georgia Watch, Georgians for a Healthy Future, and SOWEGA Rising) seeks to work with community groups and local healthcare providers to address local needs around medical billing and debt in Southwest Georgia. The initiative, launched in 2021, is supported by Community Catalyst, a leading nonprofit national health advocacy organization dedicated to advancing a movement for health equity and justice.
For too many Georgians, accessing health care services is accompanied by unaffordable medical bills and burdensome medical debt.
• One in five people (19%) in Georgia have a medical bill in collection. For individuals of color, the rate of medical bills in collection increases to 21 percent.
• Data show Black and brown people are the most affected by unaffordable health care and medical debt.
• It is critical that hospitals develop their community benefit, billing, and collections policies through a racial justice and health equity lens.
In order to encourage consumers to share their stories, Georgia Watch, Georgians for a Healthy Future, and SOWEGA Rising officially launched the Dish the Debt campaign!
Changes in legislation are greatly influenced by the personal stories of consumers. Our organizations are asking community members, especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by medical debt, to share their stories of medical bills, medical debt, and being subject to unfair debt collection practices. Your stories will help us translate the experiences of community members into policy recommendations for hospitals and state leaders that alleviate the disproportionate impact of medical debt and unfair billing practices on people of color.
The Georgia Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act:
The Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act went into effect in January 2021, making Georgia the 16th state to have adopted comprehensive protections against surprise medical bills. Georgia Watch and Georgians for a Healthy Future advocated for five years for this law that will protect an estimated 2.5 million Georgia residents from burdensome surprise medical bills.
As a bonus, the legislation also allows Georgia to establish an all payer claims database (APCD), which is a powerful tool used by 19 other states. Georgia’s APCD will inform the surprise billing payment resolution process, but will also be used to help policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates develop better understandings of health care costs, use of services, population health trends, and disparities.
With support from Community Catalyst, Georgia Watch and Georgians for a Healthy Future, published blog on Surprise Billing, to inform consumers about their rights when it comes to medical bills. We also published a blog on how the APCD will improve healthcare quality and reduce healthcare costs for Georgians. We will continue to provide educational materials on this page as they are developed.
Announcements and Opportunities:
CBES Civic Advocacy and Engagement Training: As a resident of Southwest Georgia, you know that medical debt and limited access to healthcare has hit your community the hardest. You can speak up for lasting health system reforms! As part of the Community Benefit and Economic Stability (CBES) project, statewide consumer health advocacy organizations are offering a FREE virtual Civic Advocacy and Engagement training to arm community members with the tools needed to engage in effective grassroots advocacy in Southwest Georgia.
You will learn how to become an ambassador for your community. The training will equip you with:
- An understanding of the Community Health Needs Assessment required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be conducted every three years.
- A working knowledge of advocacy and community engagement best practices.
- Resources to:
- Mobilize marginalized communities around policy issues.
- Train peers, patrons, clients, and students in advocacy.
- Georgia Watch will provide ongoing support to help participants organize their own workshops on grassroots advocacy.