The Atlanta Journal-Constitution features Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Director of Health Policy Timothy Sweeney Op-ed on health care reform in Georgia following the election.
Rather than continue the political debate over the Affordable Care Act, Georgia’s leaders should seize the opportunity it offers to make affordable health insurance available to more Georgians, particularly by expanding Medicaid.
Georgia already ranks near the bottom when it comes to health coverage, and failing to implement provisions of the law that will cover more Georgians would simply aggravate the problem.
Expanding Medicaid, a decision the Supreme Court left up to the states, could mean health coverage for more than 600,000 low-income Georgians who would likely remain uncovered otherwise. Importantly, they would have better access to primary care instead of being forced to rely on sporadic, expensive emergency room care that Georgians with insurance often end up paying the tab for through higher premiums.
The expansion is also a great deal for Georgia, as new federal funds will cover all of the costs for newly eligible Georgians in the first few years, and at least 90 percent of the costs in the long term. This will be good for Georgia’s economy, too, since the money will be used to pay doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers throughout the state. In the first three years alone, the expansion could pump $8 billion into the state’s economy.
Claims that Medicaid is ineffective are wrong. To the contrary, Medicaid expansions in other states have improved health outcomes, boosted residents’ financial security, and even reduced death rates. In Georgia, Medicaid serves more than 1 million children from low-income families and is the primary payer for hundreds of thousands of elderly Georgians and people with disabilities who receive long-term care in nursing homes or community settings. Without Medicaid, many more Georgians would go without health coverage and would face increased financial hardships as a result.
National organizations opposed to health care reform are urging Republican-controlled states not to expand Medicaid in yet another effort to stall and delay the law. They are playing political games at the national level and do not have the interests of Georgia consumers and taxpayers at heart.
These groups are also lobbying against state-based private health insurance markets, or exchanges, under the guise that declining to establish one is akin to “opting-out” of Obamacare and will prevent other parts of the law from taking effect. In reality, since Georgia has failed to lay the groundwork for a state-run exchange, Georgians will instead be served by a federally facilitated exchange. While this is a missed opportunity to build an exchange tailored to our needs, a federal exchange will still allow Georgians to take advantage of new federal tax credits in 2014 to help with the purchase of private health coverage, and other parts of the law will still take effect in Georgia.
Georgia still needs to work with the federal government to ensure that Georgians are well-served by the exchange in the short term, and state policymakers should continue to examine whether a Georgia-run exchange is best for the state in the long term. The time for playing politics with health coverage is over. It’s time for Georgia to move forward and implement the law so more Georgians will have affordable health coverage and the peace of mind that comes with it.