Opinion Columns & Blogs

It’s not scans or injections Georgia needs to save lives. It’s the stroke of a pen

“It’s both a moral and pragmatic imperative that Georgia finally moves to expand Medicaid to our low-income residents to the maximum extent possible under the Affordable Care Act. Gov. Kemp, please use your waiver power to serve as many Georgians as possible this year and ask our legislature to modify the law next year to cover more of our neediest citizens.” — William Elsea, M.D.

Amazingly, 19% of our fellow Georgians ages 19-64 are still without insurance. Georgia has the fourth highest number of uninsured residents in our great nation, exceeded only by California, Texas and Florida — much larger states. It is unconscionable that in one of the most religious states in the USA, we have not already acted to provide healthcare coverage for our brothers and sisters whose health is undeniably imperiled by lack of insurance.

Georgia is now at the point where thousands of poor people’s lives may be saved by the simple stroke of a pen. Surely the vast majority of Georgians would choose to do this — to assure health care for the poor, including many of the homeless — when 91% of the cost will be borne by the federal government. And, Gov. Brian Kemp has been given a virtual blank check to apply for any sort of a waiver so long as it is consistent with federal law.

Most other states have already done this and are using the federal money available to Georgia for Medicaid expansion. We are 42nd in the number we cover versus other states. Why send our hard-earned tax money to treat residents of other wealthy states like New York, California and Massachusetts?

With the urging of our governor, Georgia’s legislature has given the power to Kemp to assure Medicaid health insurance coverage to poor people up to 100% of poverty levels, those with an annual income of up to $12,000. That is a good start, and much more than former Gov. Nathan Deal ever accomplished.

However, if we only provide care to individuals with incomes below $12,000, we cannot get 91% federal funding — only 67% of the cost. Surely Georgians care enough about coverage for the poor to do what the majority of states, including a number of red ones, have already done — raise the income limit to 138% ($16,000 annually) for individuals with 91% federal funding for Medicaid expansion. This sounds like a minor difference, but it is not. With 100%, we can serve 240,000 more Georgians — but the number rises to 482,000 at the 138% level.

Those of us who have used Medicaid to provide essential health care for decades have seen what can be done and been thankful for it. It has been both effective and cost-efficient, providing both good preventive and curative services for some of our most underserved residents.

The hundreds of million dollars in new federal funds we receive would also help save hospitals, especially in some smaller rural communities where seven hospitals have already closed their doors due to the strain of indigent care. Medicaid expansion would also directly/indirectly create tens of thousands of new jobs, including employment for some lower income unskilled folks who would now be able to find work.

If we Georgians care about our fellow citizens, we will thank Gov. Kemp for his efforts and push him and our legislature to revise the law next year, upping the income level to the federal standard of 138%, covering an additional 242,000 Georgians.

Expansion of Medicaid should not be a partisan issue. It’s a moral issue of concern to all Georgians, regardless of party. In that vein, State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, stated: “This bill is only a beginning.’’ We sincerely hope so.