Georgia’s Need to Close Coverage Gap Flagged by New Census Report

Tim SweeneyNearly 300,000 fewer Georgians went without health insurance in 2014 compared to 2013, a decline of about 15 percent, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau data. This improvement is no doubt good news for these newly insured Georgians. Many of them enrolled in health insurance plans thanks to new financial help available provided through the Affordable Care Act. Georgia’s coverage gains could be much greater though if Georgia moved to close the state’s coverage gap for nearly 300,000 uninsured Georgians. People who fall into this gap make too much to qualify for coverage through Georgia’s restrictive Medicaid eligibility rules, yet make too little to qualify for help under the federal health law. Federal funding is available to pay for all costs to cover these uninsured Georgians through 2016, and will cover at least 90 percent of the costs in the long term.

Nationally, 8.5 million fewer Americans went without health coverage in 2014 compared to 2013, a decline of nearly 19 percent. Georgia’s decline ranked as the eighth largest in the country, in terms of raw numbers. It is important context to note Georgia also started with one of the largest uninsured populations. The 15 percent decline in the number of Georgians without coverage from 2013 to 2014 is also nearly four points below the national rate and ranks in the bottom half of all states. As a result, the nearly 1.6 million Georgians without health insurance remains the fifth largest uninsured population of any state. Meanwhile, Georgia’s nearly 16 percent uninsured rate ranks as the fourth highest of any state.

Only Florida and Texas are home to more uninsured residents as well as higher statewide uninsured rates.

Georgia can close the coverage gap by extending Medicaid coverage to uninsured Georgians with income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,200 for an individual and $27,700 for a family of three. Then the state can realize the same type of coverage gains that more than two dozen states enjoy, or will soon experience. States that closed their coverage gap in 2014 realized about twice the decline in uninsured rates among people in poverty than did states that postponed the move. Three additional states that closed their coverage gaps in 2015 are not included in these calculations.

To better highlight the clear case for Georgia’s leaders to accept new federal funding available to close Georgia’s coverage gap, GBPI is teaming with Georgians for a Healthy Future to produce a chartbook examining the issue. This chartbook provides an overview of Georgia’s existing Medicaid coverage and its critical importance in covering nearly 2 million Georgians. It examines the impact of Georgia’s ongoing refusal to close a coverage gap that leaves nearly 300,000 low-income Georgians without affordable health coverage. The easy-to-read booklet also outlines benefits to Georgia’s health care system and economy that follow after Georgia moves to close its coverage gap.

This chartbook provides us with a great conversation starter to engage with communities across Georgia to illustrate how these statewide statistics affect people, health care providers, and other stakeholders. The first meeting is in Augusta this week, where two local health care providers will explain how health coverage helps patients as well as the overall health care system better care for patients.

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