Georgia Falls to Second Worst Uninsured Rate in U.S.

Tim SweeneyGeorgia fell further behind nearly all other states in ensuring access to health coverage for its residents in 2014, according to a new Gallup Health-Ways Well-Being Index report. Georgia ranked sixth in the 2013 Gallup survey.

More than 19 percent of adults in Georgia went without health insurance in 2014, which is more than 5 points above the national average of 13.8 percent. The fact Georgia is falling even further behind the national average should set off alarms for Georgia’s policymakers who refuse to close Georgia’s coverage gap through Medicaid expansion, or even hold a serious discussion of the issue.

More than 280,000 uninsured Georgians in 2014 with income below the federal poverty level fell in a health insurance coverage gap as a result of Georgia’s decision not to extend Medicaid eligibility. A single person falls below the federal poverty line when income is less than about $11,800. The poverty line is about $20,100 for a family of three.

Federal money Georgia could use to close its insurance coverage gap through Medicaid expansion came available more than a year ago. The state can use that money to ensure all Georgians with poverty level income get access to affordable health coverage. States that accepted the federal money are showing about twice the improvement to uninsured rates compared to non-expansion states.

Many Georgians are receiving great benefit from new coverage options created by the Affordable Care Act, even as others are left behind. More than 530,000 Georgians selected a 2015 health plan through the federal health insurance marketplace before the Feb. 15, 2015 deadline. That’s an increase of more than 200,000 people compared to the end of the 2014 open enrollment period. Meanwhile, 134,000 more Georgians got Medicaid coverage in August 2014 compared to October 2013, with children accounting for more than 90 percent of the increase. That increase is at least in part due to growing publicity associated with the launch of the federal marketplace, where many people learned of a family member’s Medicaid eligibility.

Some people in state government paint the coverage gains as a negative, as nothing more than a new cost for the state to bear. Covering newly-enrolled children requires a modest increase in state spending, but these are previously-eligible children who got better access to health care in the past year. It is a positive development that Georgia extended coverage to such a large number of uninsured children and the state should strive to enroll more of them.

Georgia was home to the fourth most uninsured children of any state in 2013. Policymakers knew for a long time most of Georgia’s uninsured children were likely eligible for PeachCare or Medicaid. Other states pursued policies and strategies to increase children’s coverage, but Georgia largely failed to do so. In some cases Georgia added administrative barriers that make it harder for families to enroll their children. So Georgia’s uninsured rate for children stagnated, even as many states made great strides. Increased Medicaid and PeachCare enrollment in the last year indicates an improving rate of children’s coverage in Georgia. That should be cheered by state leaders as the good news that it is.

Georgia’s next step is to close its coverage gap that leaves more than 280,000 poverty-level adults without health coverage, including many parents of children recently covered.

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