For The Record

Georgia congressional Dems keep drumbeat for Medicaid expansion in holdout GOP states

By: - September 23, 2021 7:47 pm

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is up for reelection next year, centered his 2020 campaign for the Senate on expanding health care access. Screenshot of livestream

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other congressional Democrats are vowing to keep pushing for some form of Medicaid expansion for low-income residents living in hold-out states like Georgia to be included in the reconciliation package.

Warnock, who is up for reelection next year, centered his 2020 campaign for the Senate on expanding health care access. Georgia voters elected Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff in January, giving Democrats tenuous control of the chamber.

“Let’s be clear: We push for the expansion of Medicaid because that’s what Georgia has voted for when they sent me and Jon Ossoff to the Senate,” Warnock said at a Thursday press conference in Washington. “And that’s what the American people voted for, when they gave us the majority, and now we owe it to them to deliver this legislation that will literally help save lives.

“I believe that health care is a human right, and if you believe that health care is a human right, you don’t believe it’s a human right in just 38 states,” he added.

Democrats continue to negotiate and debate the scale of the $3.5 trillion package, which has no GOP support and has risked losing the support of moderate Democrats. Warnock said a “comprehensive, stable Medicaid fix” like the one currently proposed in the House version must survive the negotiations.

There are also competing health care priorities and ongoing disagreement over whether the federal government should even fully fund Medicaid expansion in 12 states when the other states chipped in their 10% share of the cost under the Affordable Care Act.

Critics have argued the new proposal would essentially reward Republican-led states that have long rebuffed expansion, even when offered a sweetener in this spring’s federal coronavirus relief bill.

Warnock rejected that argument Thursday.

“We make bad public policy when we make it about the politicians,” he said. “It’s costing the non-expansion states, and it’s costing the states that have expanded, not to provide health care to every American. It’s a moral and a human right, and it’s the smart thing to do in the long run.”

Expanding Medicaid to low-income adults could provide coverage to about 4.4 million Americans, including about a half million Georgians.

Warnock was joined Thursday by Ossoff and Georgia Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin and Rep. James Clyburn.

Bourdeaux, who also campaigned on Medicaid expansion and who also faces a tough re-election challenge next year, recently caught flak from progressives after she joined a group of centrist Democrats who threatened to withhold their support of the sweeping Democratic measure until the House acted on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. Bourdeaux did that while also advocating for the inclusion of a Medicaid expansion look-alike program in the broader bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ultimately agreed to call the Senate-approved bipartisan measure up for a vote on Sept. 27 – just days ahead of her deadline to have both measures done.

“Since being elected, I have worked with my friends in the Senate and a coalition in the House to provide financial incentives to persuade Georgia and other non-expansion states to expand – all to no avail,” Bourdeaux said Thursday.

“I am done with arguing, begging and protesting. It is time to finish the job of ensuring that everyone has affordable, quality health care,” she said.

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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.