In a letter Thursday, U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and all six Georgia House Democrats asked federal officials to rescind the federal approval allowing Georgia to be the first state to circumvent healthcare.gov. Screenshot of livestream (2021 file photo)
This story was updated at 9 p.m. Thursday with comment from the governor’s office.
Georgia’s congressional Democrats are asking the Biden administration to abandon the governor’s plan to bypass healthcare.gov, calling the move “callous and cruel.”
Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal to divert consumers looking for insurance to a privately run process is part of a health care plan that was approved by the Trump administration in late 2020 but has since faced federal scrutiny.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently reopened Georgia’s waiver for public comment, with Sunday the deadline to submit a comment.
State officials have defended the plan and accused federal officials of trying to backtrack without justification.
In a letter Thursday, U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and all six Georgia House Democrats asked federal officials to rescind the federal approval allowing Georgia to be the first state to circumvent healthcare.gov, which is the online gateway to the federal insurance marketplace.
“The country is in the midst of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the greatest health threats in our lifetime, and Georgia should be focused on improving access to health care, not limiting it,” the group wrote. “Instead, this attempt to undermine the (Affordable Care Act) and push Georgians into health plans that are less comprehensive and more expensive is callous and cruel.”
The letter was sent to Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who is the CMS administrator.
Another portion of the governor’s plan that has found broader support would create a reinsurance program designed to rein in premiums, particularly in rural areas.
The health care plan is one of two conservative-friendly waiver proposals offered up by Kemp in 2019.
The second one would slightly expand Medicaid, but the federal government recently withdrew approval for a work requirement and a monthly premium the state wanted to charge some participants. Kemp has said he plans to challenge the decision in court but has not said whether he plans to move forward with the rest of the expansion plan.
But when it comes to the other waiver, Kemp’s spokeswoman Katie Byrd said the state has already gone live with the reinsurance program, and she said the governor remains focused on implementing the health care plan.
“It is no surprise that this group is choosing to lobby President Biden and obstruct Georgia Access,” Byrd said. “Democrats in Washington want to federalize everything from healthcare to elections. Governor Kemp knows that a one-size-fits-all approach by the federal government will not work in Georgia. At its core, Georgia Access is about expanding consumer access to affordable insurance coverage and, ultimately, reducing our state’s uninsured population.”
In the letter, the Democrats said the plan to by healthcare.gov would drastically change how Georgians enroll in health insurance and cause a major disruption for hundreds of thousands of people. Without access to the site, the state’s low-income residents would be at a “severe disadvantage” compared to their counterparts in other 11 states that have not fully expanded Medicaid, they argued in the letter.
A record 13.6 million Americans have signed up for health coverage for this year on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces as of December, with some of the largest increases coming from Georgia and other non-expansion states, Georgia Health News reported last month.
“We’ve made tremendous strides to improve healthcare for all Georgians over the past few years, including significantly lowering the cost of premiums on the health care exchange,” Suwanee Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux said in a statement. “We cannot allow Republicans in the statehouse to strip those gains.
“Georgia’s attempts to stop individuals from using Healthcare.gov will make it more difficult to find and purchase quality insurance. Washington must block this shadow-rollback of the ACA and protect care for millions of Georgia’s residents,” she added.
Georgia’s congressional Democrats have championed a federal Medicaid workaround program, which was added to the sweeping social and climate bill that has stalled in the Senate.
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