Georgia Democrats called on the state’s GOP leadership to take advantage of new federal incentives to fully expand Medicaid that were baked into the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package President Joe Biden signed last week.
Georgia is one of a dozen states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, with Republicans calling it too costly in the long run. And so far, Republican state leaders do not appear to be taking the bait.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing for a Georgia-specific plan that would instead slightly expand coverage. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Biden administration has flagged the state’s new eligibility requirements, such as completing 80 hours of work or training each month.
Kemp has said he plans to appeal the decision, and other GOP officials, like House Speaker David Ralston, have said they still hope they can win over the feds to the state’s “Georgia solution.”
More than two dozen House Democrats gathered inside the state Capitol Monday for a press conference to make a public case for going in a different direction. They renewed their call to expand health insurance coverage to nearly 500,000 low-income Georgians and accept the newly replenished federal aid.
“We’re getting a second chance at another gift, and I hope we don’t look the gift horse in the mouth and say no,” said state Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Democrat from rural Junction City.
Under the COVID-19 relief bill, states that expand now would receive additional federal dollars for two years that would amount to between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion in new funding. The state could net $710 million under the arrangement, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Kemp’s health care plan, which would expand coverage to about 50,000 people, is set to take effect July 1. State lawmakers are working on a budget proposal that includes $76 million in state money to launch the program.
“We have got to start, at some point, dealing with reason and the will to help the rural Georgians and those Georgians who do not have access to health care,” said state Rep. Erick Allen, a Smyrna Democrat. “The excuses are over. It’s now time to act.”
Allen attributed the longstanding GOP resistance to the Affordable Care Act’s beginnings in 2010 as former President Barack Obama’s signature health care achievement. Georgia’s Republican governors remained steadfast in their opposition to Medicaid expansion even as GOP counterparts in other states accepted the federal government’s offer to pay 100% of the cost at first with a gradual decrease to 90%.
“I don’t even think Republicans know what they’re fighting against anymore, they’ve been fighting it for so long,” Allen said. “The reality is this has been a hot-button issue because of it was termed Obamacare, and they have lost sight of helping every single Georgian.”
Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is a Democrat, said last week that he hoped state leaders “will step up now” and not forego potentially $2 billion.
“Some said we couldn’t afford to expand Medicaid. My position has been we could not afford not to expand Medicaid,” Warnock said. “That was true before this bill. It is exceedingly true now as this bill includes $2 billion to expand Medicaid in the state of Georgia. That will more than cover the costs.”