On Air Now

Listen Now


H 66° L 46°
  • foggy-day
    Current Conditions
    Foggy. H 66° L 46°
  • foggy-day
    Foggy. H 66° L 46°
  • heavy-rain-day
    Chance of Rain. H 55° L 31°

News on-demand

00:00 | 00:00


Traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00


Weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

State & Regional Govt & Politics
Kemp unveils proposals to overhaul Georgia individual health plans

Kemp unveils proposals to overhaul Georgia individual health plans

Kemp unveils proposals to overhaul Georgia individual health plans
Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a plan Thursday that would invest more than $300 million in public money into reinsurance — money that would be paid to insurance companies and meant to trickle down and lower premium prices. The plan would also require the state to build its own online system that would guide residents to private web brokers who could sell them insurance.

Kemp unveils proposals to overhaul Georgia individual health plans

Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a set of waiver proposals Thursday that would remake the individual health insurance market in Georgia, aiming to lower premiums and undo federal control of the Affordable Care Act’s exchange system.

The proposals, which Kemp’s aides describe as the first of its kind, involves an ambitious set of components that each must be approved by the federal government to take effect.

One part would set aside more than $300 million in public money that the government could pay insurance companies to cover high-cost claims — thus hoping to lower premium prices.

A separate and more contentious effort would take on the structure of the ACA exchange market by moving it from federal to state control — bringing with it the $2.7 billion in federal subsidies that reduce costs to lower-income policyholders.

"We live in a divided country and in a diverse state," Kemp said, outlining the proposal in his Capitol office before a bank of TV cameras. "But it's safe to say that Republicans, Democrats and independents agree on one thing: The insurance premiums are too dang high."

As a part of the overhaul, Georgians could no longer access the federal website at healthcare.gov to enroll in ACA programs. The website would guide residents to private web brokers or encourage them to register directly with insurance companies, which is something they can’t do now.

“No one has done this yet,” said Katie Keith, a professor of health law at Georgetown University. “This is exactly what the Trump administration encouraged states to do, and no one yet has taken them up on it. So this is going to be a really big deal.”

Related: The fragile state of Georgia health care

Related: By the numbers: Health care in Georgia

Related: Sometimes, Georgia health care costs are a simple matter of location

There’s no guarantee that Donald Trump’s administration will sign off on the plan despite Kemp’s ties to the president. But the governor and his advisers have expressed confidence that it will pass muster, and they stress that they’ve been in direct contact with the White House throughout the process.

Democrats, who broadly opposed legislation that empowered Kemp to seek the waiver, criticized the governor’s plans to cut state spending by $500 million over the next two years and blasted his opposition to expanding Medicaid, which he sees as too costly in the long run.

“While I’m glad that Governor Kemp is beginning to understand what Democrats have been saying for years, his plan doesn’t go far enough,” said state Sen. Gloria Butler, who said Kemp’s proposal would still leave hundreds of thousands of Georgians without adequate health insurance.

“We need to get politics out of health care,” she said.

Why reinsurance?

The wide-ranging proposals that Kemp outlined are not even the most closely watched facet of his health care policy. That will come Monday when he details another waiver proposal that could pave the way for a limited expansion of Medicaid.

But this separate program he rolled out Thursday, known as a 1332 waiver, would still affect hundreds of thousands of private insurance plans sold to individuals, both on and off the ACA exchange.

Those people, Kemp pointed out, have endured soaring premium prices and out-of-pocket costs. The first piece of his plan, a government program to subsidize insurance coverage, is seen by some health analysts and politicians as a way to combat that.

Related: Kemp backs new health plan for rural Georgians

Related: Georgia adds 36,000 to uninsured rolls, ranks third worst in U.S.

Related: Proposed budget cuts could have big impact on health care in Georgia

The ACA exchange nationwide started with such subsidies at the federal level, in fact, and experts say part of the reason prices began to spike afterward was that the program ended. Since then, such programs have been suggested for individual states that wanted to stabilize their markets and lower consumer prices.

Twelve states have applied and received federal approval. Experts that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution consulted said Georgia’s plan would be among the best-financed of those programs, and therefore more likely to have an impact for consumers.

Kemp’s aides said they expected the program to take $104 million in state dollars and $264 million in federal dollars the first year. Those dollars would go directly to insurance companies, to satisfy up to 80% of the value of eligible claims filed.

Georgia’s Legislature is full of lawmakers who identify as fiscal conservatives. One of them, House Speaker Jan Jones, R-Milton, stood with Kemp at his announcement. Asked afterward about the $300 million in public money, she said, “I haven’t seen the details yet ... but I’m confident it’s going to give Georgians more affordable options.”

Taking aim at premiums

Georgia’s market has stabilized on its own, but premiums are still sky-high. Kemp’s aides estimate that by taking the burden of many larger claims off of the insurance companies, they can lower premiums by as much as 25% for some people in rural or underserved parts of the state.

The program carves the state into 16 regions, doling out heftier subsidies to areas with higher premiums. Southwest Georgia, where a spate of hospitals have struggled or closed, would receive more subsidies than metro Atlanta, which benefits from more competition.


uninsured georgia counties

The decreases would benefit higher-income people the most.

People who have income up to 400% of the federal poverty level already receive federal subsidies to lower their premiums. That’s about 90% of the people who buy plans on the exchange. People at the lower end can often pay premiums that, after subsidies, cost less than $100 a month.

Related: State House panel grapples with Georgia maternal mortality crisis

Related: Georgia faces rural doctor shortage

Related: Georgia Legislature’s impact on health care this year was ‘pretty big’

Those who are at least at 400% of the poverty level — $103,000 per year for a family of four — currently receive no subsidy and pay full price. If the estimates bear out, some of those families could save hundreds of dollars a month.

Some advocates for privatization cheered the move.

Kyle Wingfield, the president of the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, has long suggested adding adding subsidies for insurers as part of Georgia’s exchange, and he welcomed the Kemp initiative on Thursday. 

"If you’ve got a program that is going to lower costs overall and help people afford their own insurance and you end up with an overall better health market, it’s probably worth paying that money,” he said.

Reinvent the market

Far more controversial will be the governor’s plan to reinvent Georgia’s individual insurance market.

Kemp has long said he hoped Georgia could even set an example for other states. His proposal seeks to do that by putting some of the Trump administration’s most conservative suggestions into action.

Lower- and middle-income Georgians currently receive about $2.7 billion in subsidies from the ACA exchange market, Kemp aides said. Under their plan, Georgia would take control of that money, change how to distribute it, and loosen controls on who gets it.

Right now, only a plan that complies with the ACA’s coverage mandates is eligible for federal premium subsidies. Kemp’s plan would allow subsidies for plans that cover less.

Pre-existing conditions would have to be covered, aides said, and plans couldn’t charge more for customers who suffer from them. But the plans wouldn’t have to cover all “essential health benefits” identified in the ACA — such as emergency care and mental health services — if the customer decides to risk it and buy a plan without them.

Other people who would be eligible for subsidies are employees of small businesses whose employers give them a bonus to buy their own health coverage.

A new web portal

Right now those skimpier plans are not available on the federal exchange website, healthcare.gov. Under Kemp’s plan, Georgians who tried to access that site would be routed to a page that gave them options including private web brokers that can list plans that cover less.

Some ACA supporters were concerned about revoking the option to use healthcare.gov, a neutral platform, and pushing consumers into choosing a web broker they’re not familiar with. Some may steer people to plans that aren’t what they really want, they said.

One web broker, healthsherpa.com, is held in high regard by Kemp’s administration and some health care advocates. But not all are as well functioning technically or as clear to consumers in their presentation. Some advocates worry that customers might assume they’re purchasing plans that cover a broad array of health benefits when they’re not.

“Some of these plans that don’t offer full essential health benefits, their marketing is very confusing,” said Laura Colbert, the director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “I would worry a lot that consumers would buy a plan that doesn’t actually work for them.”

If approved by the federal government, the plans would require a tremendous amount of work that is currently done at the federal level, necessitating an expansion of a health oversight agency in Kemp’s office. Aides said that detailed questions about implementation, however, were premature.

Read More


  • Airline travel is stressful enough when flying solo. It’s even tougher for families, who sometimes have to split up in order to get the cheapest airfares. According to the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, charging fees to keep families together is unacceptable. The nonprofit organization posted an online petition, “demanding airlines put safety over profits.” “Children 13 or under should sit with their families while flying, and should not be charged extra fees to do so,” according to the petition, which has a goal of 75,000 signatures and was approaching 60,000 early Tuesday. According to a Consumer Reports review of more than 130 complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines have separated or suggested separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents, USA Today reported. “Children need a responsible adult around and whether it’s just so they can go to the bathroom in the middle of the flight or if there’s an emergency, it’s not safe to have a child without somebody there to take care of them,” Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports’ advocacy arm, told CNN. “And no business traveler or solo traveler wants to be put in charge of a 3-year-old they don’t know, and no parent wants to be seated, strapped in unable to move, that far from their child.' According to the petition, splitting up families “is a security hazard for the child and a safety threat to all passengers during emergencies.” The petition further claimed that separation “puts an inappropriate burden on customers who sit next to an unaccompanied child.” The petition specifically singles out American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. In 2016, Congress passed a bill that called upon airlines to seat children 13 and younger next to a family member at no extra cost, CNN reported. However, the bill left some room for the airlines to bypass the law, calling for a policy “if appropriate.” Consumer Reports created a site last fall where consumers can lodge complaints at the same time with the organization and the Department of Transportation, USA Today reported. The organization said it has collected more than 400 complaints since the site went online, the newspaper reported. Representatives for American, United and Delta, the initial targets of the petition because they received the most complaints, said they have taken steps to ensure families booked together, sit together. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told USA Today the airline has spent a 'considerable amount of time'' on the issue and has developed a system of seating children younger than 15 with an adult family member. In a statement, Delta spokeswoman Maria Moraitakis said, “Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, Delta works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their travel needs are met. When customers have seating questions, we encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible to allow for the opportunity to address their concerns.” United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart told CNN the airline has adjusted its family seating procedures and policies. “We’ve essentially rolled out automatically seating families together. So we automatically scan for families who do not have seats assigned next to each other and we work to seat them together,” Hobart told CNN.
  • With the coronavirus impacting countries around the world, the word pandemic has been used more and more often. But what is a pandemic and how does that differ from an outbreak? Outbreaks vs pandemic Outbreaks turn into pandemics when an illness becomes global, the World Health Organization said. There are actually four levels to qualify how severe and widespread an illness is, Health.com reported. They are, according to Health.com: Sporadic, or infrequently occurring disease. Endemic or usual prevalence of an illness. Epidemic or sudden increase of an illness or higher numbers of sick patients than expected. Pandemic or an epidemic that has spread to other countries. The WHO will declare the illness as a pandemic using various models. But there is no one number that changes an epidemic or outbreak into a pandemic, The Guardian reported. Why does it spread so far? Most people don’t have immunity when an outbreak spreads worldwide. They also have different epidemiological patterns. For example, while the normal flu hits during the winter months, the H1N1 pandemic happened in the summer, the WHO said. How fast can a pandemic spread? A virus can travel from a remote village to cities on all continents in 36 hours, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. How can you stop a pandemic? CDC global health security experts work with other countries to help stop the spread by detecting and reporting cases, identifying the cause of illnesses, containing outbreaks and coordinating a response.
  • A Florida man is accused of hitting and killing his girlfriend while driving a vehicle outside a Polk County bar, then returning to the establishment, authorities said. Charles Robert Polen, 40, of Fort Meade, was charged with DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident involving death and driving without a license, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. He remains in jail in lieu of $15,000 bail, according to arrest records. Deborah Jo Hershberger, 40, of Fort Meade, was found dead in a road near the Coop, a bar in eastern Polk County, the Tampa Bay Times reported. According to an arrest report, Polen and Hershberger were drinking at the bar Saturday. They had driven there in Hershberger’s 2002 blue Dodge Neon, the newspaper reported. Police said Polen got into an argument with another man, then quarreled with Hershberger when she asked for the keys to the Neon, the Times reported. Hershberger left on foot, and Polen stayed in the bar to finish his beer, the newspaper reported. Then, Polen got into the Neon and began driving to look for her. Polen told deputies that while driving, he hit something, WTSP reported. Polen said he thought he had hit an animal, but then saw a person lying in the road. A woman called 911, and Polen told deputies drove back to the bar and waited for law enforcement, WFTS reported. After authorities arrived, Polen walked from the bar to the scene. the Times reported. Deputies said Polen was upset and had to be restrained once he realized it was Hershberger’s body on the road, the newspaper reported. Deputies believed Polen was intoxicated; seven hours after the incident, his blood alcohol content was .046, which is below Florida’s legal limit of .08, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Body camera footage shows a Florida girl pleading for help as she is put in handcuffs and taken away from school. WFTV first reported on the story back in September. Orlando police said then that the bodycam footage would not be released. But the family’s attorney has it now, and has shared it. Orlando police were called to the school after Kaia reportedly kicked a staff member during a tantrum at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy. Charges against her were later dropped. The video shows 6-year-old Kaia, confused and crying for help as she’s led away with her hands zip-tied behind her back with makeshift handcuffs from school grounds. See the arrest and aftermath below: Kaia bawls as one of the officers, Officer Dennis Turner, asks the other officer to zip-tie her and take her to Orange County’s Juvenile Detention Center. As one of the officers tightens the makeshift children’s handcuffs, she cries out “No! No! Don’t put handcuffs on (me). Help me! Help me!” Turner’s bodycam footage shows him follow the other officer as he leads Kaia to the back of the patrol car. Then, since she is unable to step up and into the SUV on her own, he lifts her up. “Please! Please! Please let me go!” Kaia screams in the bodycam footage. “No! Help me! Help me!” One school official asks in the video if the restraints were necessary. “Yes, and if she was bigger, she’d be wearing regular handcuffs,” Turner replies in the video. Turner then tells school officials he’s arrested 6,000 people in his career and the youngest, before Kaia, was 7 years old. “She broke the record,” he says. Turner then arrested another 6-year-old at the same school. He was fired for both arrests for violating department policy requiring a supervisor’s approval to arrest anyone under 12. Kaia’s grandmother is now pushing to change state law concerning arrests of children for misdemeanors.
  • A man who was running for the Arizona 1st Congressional District on the Republican ticket had to suspend his candidacy after he overdosed last week. “Today, I have suspended my campaign for the US House of Representatives and am seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder,” Chris Taylor told NBC News in a statement. “I will fully cooperate with local authorities on any matters arising from my recent relapse and overdose.” A family member found Taylor unresponsive at home Wednesday night, the Gila Herald reported. He was revived with Narcan. The Army veteran who served two combat tours in Afghanistan said he’s had an opioid addiction since high school, The Arizona Republic reported. The newspaper reported Taylor overdosed on heroin. “I’m not going to hide from this. I’m not ashamed of what happened. I wish to sincerely apologize to the amazing people who have supported me. I don’t know what went wrong. I recently relapsed after having so many solid years in sobriety. I have to figure out where I went wrong,” Taylor told the Republic. Taylor is currently a member of Safford, Arizona’s city council and founder of Desert Eagle Addiction Recovery, a nonprofit that helps veterans and others dealing with drug addiction. He has been open about his past drug abuse. During his announcement for his run for congress, Taylor said, “The experiences that I’ve had with opiate addiction and being able to overcome that and inspire and help others to find that recovery as well are a source of strength,” the Herald reported. Taylor was among three Republican candidates vying for a spot on the November ballot to unseat Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, NBC News reported.
  • A Texas father is behind bars after investigators said he repeatedly struck his 2-month-old baby, causing the child to suffer 13 rib fractures, a broken leg and a brain injury. According to KFDX-TV and the Times Record News, Rakim Smith, 21, of Wichita Falls, is facing a child injury charge in the beatings, which occurred from Sept. 21 to Nov. 21, 2019, authorities said. He was indicted last week. Authorities learned of the baby’s injuries Nov. 21 after the child arrived at an emergency room with several broken bones, the news outlets reported. Smith later confessed to punching the infant because the child kept crying, authorities said. Smith has been jailed on $250,000 bond, officials said. Read more here or here.