MEEKS: We need a new fire

March 26, 2014 

The Georgia legislative session is finished and no progress was made toward addressing health-care issues in this state. A debt of gratitude is owed to the courageous group of folks who disrupted the work of the Legislature and got themselves arrested last week in an effort to show that we need to speak up about what is happening.

Georgia has about 650,000 low income people who need to have health coverage. The Medicaid expansion would be a tremendous asset. The federal government will pick up a large percentage of the cost for the expansion (about 90 percent).

For those of us who are not blinded by partisan politics the idea of Medicaid expansion seems to make sense. This is especially true when we consider the alternatives. Georgia needs to improve its overall health status, but as long as large groups of the population have no access to health-care coverage, preventative measures will not be employed by them. Also it is estimated that approximately 10 deaths a day will occur as we go forward due to the lack of access to medical care.

What are our governor and other leaders thinking? Uninsured people will get sick and many of them will be treated and we will pay for that treatment as we did in 2010 when Georgia hospitals had to manage the $1.3 billion that it cost them to treat our uninsured sisters and brothers. It is not difficult to see that the cost of treating the uninsured continues to skyrocket and has a very negative effect upon many hospitals across Georgia.

The Affordable Care Act is moving ahead and this childish obstinacy that Gov. Deal and others across the country are exhibiting toward it will result in hurting the people who have the most to lose and the lowest voices with which to protest what is happening to them. This is the reason why the Moral Monday protests at the state Capitol during this session of the Legislature have been so important. Those without voices or with small unheard voices need to have those with louder voices speak on their behalf. The louder voices spoke last Tuesday, including some of my friends from the Open Door Community who were among the folks arrested. This type of protest needs to continue.

But there needs to be far more than this happening. I like the action of a group in Louisiana who purchased billboards stating how many folks are being hurt by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid. There has been a significant amount of protest arising from Republicans supporting the governor because this is not information they wish to have distributed. The voiceless are not supposed to have their plight placed on billboards. It is one thing to hear that Medicaid is not being expanded, but it is altogether different to hear that 650,000 people could have medical care coverage if the governor would approve it. It is also quite a bit more powerful to have this information up on billboards than simply writing about it.

Of course the Affordable Care Act has problems, most new big pieces of legislation do. But it is a beginning and certainly a step in the right direction. Our biggest problem is that we, as a nation, have forgotten we are one people and that all of us need to be able to have basics such as employment, health care, food and shelter, education and basic security. All of us deserve that and our government is supposed to help make that possible.

There have been times in our history when this fact seemed to be clearer than it is today.

Hopefully this new little spark that we see in the Moral Mondays actions, billboards and other acts to bring awareness will become the fire that reminds us we are one nation.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.

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