With open enrollment for Obamacare weeks away, Blue Cross customers across several Georgia counties have received letters from the insurance giant saying their health plan will no longer exist there next year. Bob Roberts, a radio announcer in Vidalia, thought it was just a renewal letter, he said. “But it wasn’t.” “I mean what am I going to do?” he asked. “We’re kind of out here in the cold.” What no one told Roberts is that Georgia still expects every county to be covered by at least one insurance option under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The letter suggested the client call or go to the Obamacare website healthcare.gov to see his or her options; those are not yet posted. Pre-shopping plan information for 2019 coverage is expected to be posted on healthcare.gov shortly, and it will go live for real shopping Nov. 1. The letters from Blue Cross apply to customers on the individual market, including the ACA exchange. The last-minute news shook agents and customers in the individual market, raising the specter of uncertainty that has jostled the individual market over the past couple of years. At that time, as the Trump administration focused on its campaign promises to undo pieces of Obamacare with help from the GOP-led Congress, insurance companies said they had to raise prices and pull back coverage to compensate for the market uncertainty. This year, in contrast, announcements for 2019 coverage had been largely sanguine. Rates are expected to stay stable, companies are expanding coverage and Blue Cross is returning to metro Atlanta. Although struggles continue over the ACA, including a lawsuit filed by states including Georgia, companies appear to have baked that uncertainty into their prices now. The company told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement that it revised its 2019 Georgia coverage proposals after a thoughtful review. “This was a difficult decision,” Blue Cross told its clients in the letter, “because we’re committed to offering you and your family affordable health benefits.” The move came after companies filed their initial plans and could see what their competitors offered. Health insurance companies make their first proposals to the Georgia Department of Insurance for rates and coverage in early or midsummer; then they negotiate with the state for a final proposal by August. Those proposals rarely change afterward, but they can and have. Blue Cross now expects to serve only 75 of the state’s 159 counties in 2019, fewer than it originally proposed. State officials point out that it will still serve more people than in 2018 because it’s adding back populous counties that it had left. “Overall, there’s slightly more competition,” especially from the Atlanta area northward, said Tom Carswell, the director of the product review division of the state Insurance Department. “There’s more coverage in more counties than there was last year.” And, he added, all counties will have coverage. Companies such as Ambetter expanded into other counties, allowing Blue Cross to draw back without leaving a county dry. The reason for the withdrawal likely comes down to money. One of the major factors for insurance companies isn’t just how much money it can make from the customer base in a given county, but how good the contracts are that it’s able to strike with hospitals and doctors in a given geography. In areas with fewer health care providers, the providers might have more bargaining power, and that can make the contracts less lucrative. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia expects to serve fewer counties than it originally proposed on the Obamacare market next year, but the company will reach more people. According to Blue Cross, these are the counties it will serve in 2019. COUNTIES BLUE CROSS IS EXPANDING INTO IN 2019: Bartow Cherokee Cobb Coweta DeKalb Douglas Fayette Forsyth Fulton Gwinnett Henry Lamar Pike Fannin Banks Dawson Franklin Habersham Hall Hart Lumpkin Rabun Stephens Towns Union White Chattooga Floyd Gilmer Pickens Polk COUNTIES BLUE CROSS WILL CONTINUE SERVING IN 2019: Morgan Oglethorpe Jasper Carroll Haralson Heard Burke Columbia Emanuel Glascock Jefferson Jenkins Lincoln McDuffie Richmond Taliaferro Warren Wilkes Charlton Ware Upson Atkinson Johnson Laurens Crawford Berrien Brooks Clinch Colquitt Cook Decatur Early Echols Grady Lanier Lowndes Seminole Thomas Tift Turner Baldwin Hancock Washington Wilkinson Source: Anthem Inc.
There was a preliminary court hearing held Wednesday in the case of Billy Joe Cook: he’s charged in the murder of a woman whose body was found in 2007 in a swamp in Franklin County. Leslie Adams was killed two years earlier in Gwinnett County. Cook was the “primary and only suspect” in the case within days of Leslie Adams’ 2005 disappearance, said Cpl. Wilbert Rundles, a Gwinnett County Police Department spokesman, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Leslie Adams had taken a temporary protection order out against Cook days before her disappearance. Blood stains and a spent bullet casing were found in Leslie Adams’ home after she was reported missing, Rundles said. Those pieces of evidence led police to believe it was a homicide from the beginning, but there was not enough evidence to charge Cook initially, including Leslie Adams’ body, Rundles said. After the body was found in 2007, investigators first had to establish whether Leslie Adams had been killed in Gwinnett County, Franklin County or somewhere in between, Rundles said. Eventually the case went cold, but full-time cold case detectives officially re-opened the matter in 2017, though Rundles could not say what led them to do so. Rundles partly attributed new investigative resources to the department’s ability to arrest Cook now, saying there are tools currently available that were not in 2005. The investigators on Leslie Adams’ case, like her family, “never gave up hope,” he said.
Lake Herrick, one of the most beautiful places on the University of Georgia campus, officially reopened on Oct. 17, creating new opportunities for recreation, research and experiential learning. Named for Allyn M. Herrick, former dean of the Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Lake Herrick was commissioned in 1982 as a recreational resource for UGA and the Athens community. It was a popular spot for swimming, fishing and boating for two decades. Campus and community events were held in the pavilion, and the Department of Recreational Sports staffed lifeguards and concession vendors. In 2002, the lake was closed to swimming and boating due to water quality concerns but remained open for fishing, walking and birdwatching. Now, thanks to generous support from the Georgia Power Foundation and the Riverview Foundation and the dedicated efforts of UGA faculty, staff and students and members of the Athens community, Lake Herrick has reopened. “The University of Georgia is grateful to the Georgia Power Foundation and the Riverview Foundation for helping us bring this valuable campus and community resource back to life,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “The Lake Herrick Watershed Restoration Project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished at UGA with the help of private support.” Leaders in the Warnell School, Recreational Sports and the Facilities Management Division at UGA charged an ad hoc committee in early 2016 with developing prioritized management objectives and a phasing plan for physical improvements to the lake. The committee’s five-phase master plan includes recommendations for design, management, water quality monitoring and experiential learning. The first two phases of the project, which were dedicated at the Oct. 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony, include rehabilitation of the Oconee Forest pond and improvements to the Lake Herrick shoreline. The first phase adds a walking trail and native plants while improving the Oconee Forest pond to prevent sediment and pollutants from passing downstream to Lake Herrick and the North Oconee River. The Lake Herrick shoreline improvements create a terraced lawn for activities and events; an accessible dock for launching kayaks, canoes and paddle boards into the lake; and a walking trail through native vegetation along the lake’s edge. An overlook dock and renovation of the Lake Herrick Pavilion provide more opportunities for engagement within this vibrant campus landscape. “The Lake Herrick Watershed Restoration Project demonstrates UGA’s ongoing commitment to steward natural resources and advance campus sustainability,” said Kevin Kirsche, director of UGA’s Office of Sustainability. “My hope is that members of the UGA and local community will get outdoors and enjoy Lake Herrick and Oconee Forest Park, fall in love with this place, and continue to protect and restore these and other natural treasures.” Lake Herrick is a prominent feature within Oconee Forest Park, which serves as a living laboratory for research in the natural and social sciences and an interdisciplinary outdoor classroom. Faculty and students in visual arts, communication studies, ecology, engineering, forestry and natural resources, landscape architecture and other disciplines have unique opportunities for experiential learning at the site. Lake Herrick also is open to the public for enjoyment.