Editor's note: Early voting continues for the July 31 General Primary that pairs Democratic State Representatives Pat Gardner (57) and Rashad Taylor (55) against each other in the District 57 race. The newly redrawn district includes a portion of Virginia-Highland. A profile of Taylor is available here.
After a career of teaching and mental health advocacy, Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) decided to go into politics when her daughter was diagnosed with what was then called a pre-existing condition.
The refusal of insurance agencies to cover her daughter aggravated Gardner, who felt that the policy of refusing those with pre-existing conditions seemed unfair.
Frustrated, Gardner closely followed health care legislation at the capitol as the Executive Director of the Georgia Psychological Association from 1971-2001.
"I was a lobbyist for mental health issues, which is why I had such a strong interest — a continuing interest — in making sure that people had not just access to health care, but also making sure that mental health was part of the entire treatment," she said.
But her work as an advocate was not enough.
Gardner decided to run for the District 57 seat in the state house in 2001 with hopes of making a greater impact.
"I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side of the rope that they have down at the capitol," she said.
She believes healthcare is a relevant issue to all of the new District 57, which includes portions of Morningside, Virginia-Highland and Midtown.
"I feel very strongly that we need to make sure that people have access to healthcare," she said.
Gardner is aware that Georgia democrats have an uphill battle in implementing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act on a state level. She is a member of the house subcommittee on health, and was recently the only democrat appointed by Governor Deal to the health insurance exchange committee.
"It is my belief that the business community and many others believe that we need to set up a Georgia style health insurance exchange to help small businesses pool their resources and get good health insurance for their employees,” Gardner said, "So the development of the health insurance exchange will be very interesting in the next session."
The adult Medicaid should also be broadened, Gardner said.
If the state does not expand the program, she said Georgia Medicaid beneficiaries would lose $1 billion in federal funds for the program.
"We’ll still be paying the taxes, we just won’t be making the investment in the health of the poor adults in our state," she said.
Because of redistricting, Gardner faces opposition in the primary from Rep. Rashad Taylor, a former representative of District 55 and one of the Georgia Assembly’s four openly LGBT members.
Despite what is expected to be a close race, she is optimistic and hopes to continue to represent the community at the capital and have a hand in healthcare reform statewide.
"I am thrilled that we’re going to address a system that we’ve been putting band aids on for years,” she said, “This is the beginning of a real, comprehensive reform that will change the way we think about helping people stay healthy. I want to be part of the development of that process in our state."