If Not Medicaid Expansion, What is the Plan?

Posted by Timothy Sweeney

Gov. Nathan Deal announced today, in no uncertain terms, that he intends to leave half-a-million Georgians without health insurance, even though the state has an affordable way to get them coverage. By strongly reiterating his opposition to expanding Medicaid, he practically guaranteed that Georgia will remain stuck with a substandard health system – marked by an unhealthy population, doctor shortages, and hospitals at risk of shuttering. He is also leaving billions of dollars on the table that could bolster Georgia’s economy in the short term — and over time by fostering a healthier workforce.

Nearly 2 million Georgians lack health coverage, and expanding Medicaid would solve the problem for a significant portion of these people with only minimal cost to state taxpayers. If the governor has a better alternative then it’s time for him to announce his plans.

Many in Georgia’s medical community – hospitals, doctors and others — have embraced the expansion because they understand the ramifications for Georgia’s health care system, and its economy, of remaining among the states with the highest share of residents without insurance. Their support should make the obvious clear – expanding Medicaid for those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual or about $26,000 fora family of 3) but still unable to afford private coverage is good for Georgia’s health care system and the doctors, hospitals, and nurses who care for patients in Georgia.

While the governor points out that Georgia faces doctor shortages in some parts of the state, increasing the number of Georgians with insurance will actually alleviate this problem by making the state more attractive to health care providers.Furthermore, failing to expand Medicaid will actually increase private insurance costs and increase the likelihood that Georgia employers will owe penalties for not providing affordable coverage to their employees,according to a study from the American Academy of Actuaries.

Increasing health coverage so dramatically is reason enough to expand. But, the $33 billion in new funding for Georgia’s health care system that expansion would bring over the next decade would also significantly boost the state’s economy. These funds would have an economic impact totaling $72 billion as they cycle through Georgia’s economy, according to one University of Georgia economist.

Thursday the governor will give the annual state of the state address to the General Assembly. If he is going to leave billions in new federal funds on the table that could otherwise be used to expand access to health care through Medicaid, then he should tell Georgia what he plans to do to address the pressing health care issues facing the state. Simply saying no thanks and leaving at least half-a-million Georgians without health coverage is not a solution.

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