Republican Governors Warming Up to Medicaid, What About Georgia?

Posted by Timothy Sweeney

In this week’s State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal reiterated his opposition to using Medicaid to expand access to health coverage in Georgia, even as several other Republican governors recently expressed intentions to take advantage of the substantial new federal resources for their health care systems. To be clear, the state of health coverage in Georgia is in dire need of repair, with the 5th largest population of uninsured residents of any state in the U.S.

Expanding Medicaid is not only about increasing access to health care for Georgia’s people; expanding Medicaid represents an important investment in Georgia’s health care system. Over the next 10 years, Georgia’s modest investment will bring at least $9 in federal funding for each state dollar. Total new federal funding will likely exceed $30 billion over these 10 years.

Medicaid expansion generates a return two-thirds greater than the $5.50 per dollar return the governor cited as justification for state investment in the harbor deepening project in Savannah.

The new state and federal investment in Georgia’s health care system will further benefit the state as the new spending flows through the economy. Furthermore, the new spending specifically benefit the health care system (and consumers and businesses who buy private insurance) by reducing uncompensated care and the cost shifting that results when hospitals and other health care providers treat patients without health insurance.

The sizable benefits of new federal resources has led several Republican governors to announce plans to expand Medicaid, and the governor’s recent rhetoric aside, it’s not too late for him to follow their lead.

The latest critic to reconsider is Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, whose embrace this week of extending Medicaid to those earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line (about $31,000 for a family of four) marks the largest Republican-led state to support the expansion so far. The expansion will cover 250,000 more Arizonans while bringing in nearly $8 billion in new federal funds.

In December, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval was the first Republican governor to announce that his state will expand Medicaid to cover more than 78,000 low-income people. Last week, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez announced her state will also expand Medicaid in 2014, which would generate nearly $5 billion in new federal funds and extend coverage to more than 200,000 people. And, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple included the Medicaid expansion in a bill he sent to the legislature last week.

All four of these governors noted they were against Obamacare as a whole. But, they said, since the law is here to stay it makes more sense for their states to accept federal funds that will give a financial lift to hospitals and other health care providers, while increasing health coverage for their residents. The math is simple and compelling: federal funds will cover 100 percent of the expansion for the first three years and no less than 90 percent after that.

Arizona’s governor summed it up well.

“…We will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctors’ offices and emergency rooms,” Brewer said. “Weigh the evidence and do the math.”

Expanding Medicaid in Georgia is the best decision for the hundreds of thousands of people in this state who would finally gain health insurance. The economic benefits would ripple throughout the state’s economy and be a boon especially to Georgia’s health care sector.

If it makes economic sense to governors Brewer, Martinez, Dalrymple and Sandoval, maybe Georgia’s governor will take another look and see that it makes economic sense for his state too.

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