Our state legislators and governor are running scared. What are they afraid of? Obamacare. Why are they afraid? Is it the cost of expanding Medicaid and opening up slots for 534,000 Georgians who would be eligible? No. They are bending to political ideology.
Georgia is not alone. Twenty other states, all controlled by Republicans, have decided to opt out of the additional Medicaid coverage that would be paid, for the most part, by federal funds. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for newly eligible Medicaid recipients for three years starting in 2014 and 90 percent after that.
According to a McClatchy Newspapers story, Georgia is one of the states that will cover only the “poorest of the poor.” How is that defined? “Parents must now earn less than the federal poverty level -- $19,530 for a family of three -- to be eligible for Medicaid,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care research group. In Georgia and in 17 other states, only parents in severe poverty, “50 percent of the federal poverty level or lower,” qualify for coverage, the foundation.
So what does this all mean? In simple terms, it means nothing. The state’s decision maintains the status quo. Hospitals and doctors and volunteer clinics will continue as they do now providing health care services to indigents.
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However, many rural hospitals and even large facilities cannot continue to provide services through their most expensive departments, their emergency rooms. It means those without insurance coverage will finally present themselves at emergency room doors sicker, needing more expensive treatment than they would have needed if they had been treated earlier in a less expensive setting. It means those with health insurance will pay more for their services to fill in the gap. And it could mean less access to health-care services as more hospitals call it a day and close.
This ideological battle has real-world consequences of life and death to the poorest among us. The governor still has time to change direction, but in this battle, those who suffer the consequences have little voice. It’s up to those health-care facilities and their lobbying organizations to make the case that keeping 534,000 Georgians off the Medicaid rolls is not only morally unjustified but financially irresponsible.