For The Record

Advocates rally against plan to bypass as feds seek public input

By: - December 7, 2021 7:25 pm

Gov. Brian Kemp originally unveiled his plan to reshape Georgia’s private insurance market back in 2019. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder (file photo)

Advocates are calling on the public to weigh in – again – on the governor’s plan to bypass

Gov. Brian Kemp’s health care proposal would divert consumers looking for insurance to a privately run process. His plan was approved by the Trump administration last year but is now being scrutinized by the Biden administration, which is reviewing all previously approved state health care waivers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reopened Georgia’s waiver for public comment in November. The deadline to submit a comment is Jan. 9.

Advocates from groups representing a range of constituents, from immigrants to rural, low-income residents, panned the proposal in a virtual event Tuesday hosted by the Cover Georgia coalition.

“The plan was not a good fit for Georgia when it was proposed in 2019, and it’s an even worse fit for our state now,” said Martha Shockey with the left-leaning Indivisible Georgia Coalition. “Gov. Kemp’s plan dismantles the most widely used and only unbiased place that consumers can shop for comprehensive coverage.”

The advocacy groups are urging people to take time during the busy holiday season to contribute to an official record that they hope will help doom the plan.

This part of Kemp’s health care proposal also sparked opposition during the public comment period last summer, including from those who said they found the state’s replacement plan confusing.

“Georgia’s choosing to leave consumers on their own to navigate this incredibly varied, very complex network of qualifying plans and subsidies,” said Abbie Fuksman, representing the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta. “There’s simply no way for a consumer to do a direct apples-to-apples comparison, while also being informed about what government subsidies and other options are available.

“There is right and wrong, and purposely causing people to have less access to their care choices is about as wrong as wrong can be. It is time to speak up,” Fuksman said.

The governor’s office has criticized as being clunky and difficult to use. The Kemp administration has also defended his health care proposal and accused federal officials of trying to backtrack without justification.

“CMS already conducted a comprehensive and robust analysis and approved Georgia Access, and there have been no relevant changes since then to either the governing legal framework or the nature of the program,” Grant Thomas, director of the governor’s Office of Health Strategy and Coordination, wrote in an August letter to federal health officials.

Thomas said state officials were concerned about the feds’ apparent disregard for “the significant investments” from the state and others to “facilitate a seamless implementation.”

State officials have brushed off requests from the Biden administration to provide more information on how recent changes on the national level, such as increased funding for outreach to enroll people, would affect the proposal. The Kemp administration has instead notified federal officials that Georgia intends to move forward under its earlier approval with plans to launch in 2023.

But the 1332 waiver plan includes another provision creating a reinsurance program that has been more favorably received.

The 1332 waiver is separate from another one being held up by the Biden administration that would allow slightly more people to sign up for Medicaid but only if they satisfy work or other requirements.

Georgia is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The so-called Build Back Better Act that cleared the House last month includes a federal workaround plan for holdout states, but the bill faces a tough journey in the Senate.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.