Rep. Gardner: Why Georgia should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

State Rep. Pat Gardner explains that by expanding Medicaid, almost 700,000 state residents "will no longer rely on hospital emergency rooms to get their care for free, but will have access to a doctor in their community."

Editor's note: Morningside resident Pat Gardner has served since 2001 as Representative from Georgia House District 57. The new District 57 boundaries run from Morningside to SW Atlanta, including portions of Virginia-Highland, Midtown and neighborhoods east of Downtown Atlanta. See here to be a part of her mailing list.

Gardner presently serves on the House Appropriations, Transportation, Higher Education and Natural Resources & Environment Committees and the Appropriations Committee’s Health Subcommittee. She is the Treasurer of the Working Families Caucus, Chair of the Health and Welfare Subcommittee of the Fulton County Delegation, and immediate past chair of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.

Recent appointments by the Speaker include the Regional Transit Authority Governance Commission and the Health Committee of the National Conference of State Legislators. Governor Nathan Deal appointed Gardner to the Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee.

The 2013 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly convened last week and Gardner says healthcare will continue to be at the top of her agenda. What follows is her explanation as to: "Why Georgia should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act"

"Georgia has the opportunity to cover 690,000 uninsured residents through an expansion of the Medicaid program at a minimal cost to the state.

"This is good business and good public policy. Under the Affordable Care Act, Georgia would establish a new category of eligibility for Medicaid to cover low- income adults and families, nearly half of whom are working parents. Without the expansion, Georgians’ taxes would help low-income adults in other states, while our Medicaid program would continue to cover children and people in nursing homes but very few adults.

"Under the expansion, Georgia would receive $33 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years but spend only $2.5 billion. State dollars will be spent with or without the expansion to cover additional children as their families discover that their children are already covered by our Medicaid program. This additional spending is just 2.7 to 4.6 percent more than what Georgia would spend on Medicaid over the next decade without the expansion. More importantly, it is less than 1 percent of general fund spending. Right now, health care spending is nearly 20 percent of our budget.

"Low-income families get sick today, whether they have health insurance or not. Georgia taxpayers foot the bills through emergency room visits, low-risk illnesses that become catastrophic and through lost wages. With Medicaid expansion, the federal government would pay most of the bill for the first 10 years. Without Medicaid expansion, the costs would still increase, but Georgians would pay the bill alone.

"Health Care Exchanges: While we regret that Georgia decided to forgo the opportunity to create our own Georgia-based system, we are excited that our small businesses will have a chance to shop for cost-effective insurance in 2014 thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Low- wage individuals will be eligible for a subsidy to help pay a portion of their health insurance premium. If we want our state to grow, we have to create economic security for our families and our small businesses.

"Hospital Bed Tax*: Any new tax proposed to solve the short- term funding issue for Medicaid must take into account our long-term obligations. Georgia cannot afford to keep kicking this problem down the road with stop-gap measures. We look forward to learning about the leadership proposals to address the $430 million deficit in Medicaid and the plan to accommodate the additional 159,000 Georgians who are currently Medicaid eligible and may join in the next few years due to simplified application processes."

* Editor's note: See here where Gov. Deal last week introduced a plan that would avoid an explicit vote on the hospital bed tax.


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