Supreme Court Ruling Frees Georgia to Turn Attention to Closing Coverage Gap

Tim SweeneyToday the U.S. Supreme Court again upheld a key component of the Affordable Care Act against a politically-driven effort to dismantle the law through the court system. The ruling issued in King v. Burwell protects tax credits in states such as Georgia that chose to use the federal marketplace rather than create their own state-based health insurance exchange.

More than 412,000 Georgians are receiving federal tax credits this year to help purchase private health insurance, which represents more than 90 percent of the more than 450,000 Georgians who enrolled in coverage through the federal marketplace. These tax credits reduce the cost of their premiums by an average of $274 per month.

New health insurance options through the marketplace as well as enrollment growth among children who were already eligible for Medicaid or PeachCare helped lower Georgia’s uninsured rate significantly over the last two years. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows Georgia’s uninsured rate for the whole population is down to a little more than 14 percent, which ranks as the tenth highest in the nation. Georgia’s uninsured rate just counting adults was greater than 19 percent at the end of 2014, which ranked as the second highest in the nation, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Poll released earlier this year.

Georgia’s stubbornly high uninsured rate among adults can be traced at least in part to state leaders’ decision not to close Georgia’s coverage gap. That shortsighted choice leaves nearly 300,000 uninsured Georgians without affordable health coverage. Remedying this situation and closing the coverage gap would bring $3 billion in new federal funding to Georgia’s health care system every year. It would also ensure that hundreds of thousands of Georgians now uninsured could visit a doctor when they’re sick and gain financial protections in the event of catastrophic illness.

The uncertainty of the King v. Burwell outcome fostered timidity among state leaders, who avoided tackling big health care issues. Now that the soundness of the federal health care law is again reaffirmed, however, Georgia’s leaders should focus on closing the coverage gap and extending health coverage to working adults across the state who make too little to qualify for tax credits through, but who make too much to qualify under Georgia’s strict Medicaid eligibility guidelines.

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