For The Record

State Democratic lawmakers want Medicaid expansion on special session agenda

By: - July 27, 2021 8:00 pm

State Rep. Matt Wilson holds up a letter Democratic legislators sent to Gov. Brian Kemp pushing him to include Medicaid expansion in his call for a special session later this year. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

State Democrats are trying to hitch full Medicaid expansion onto the agenda for this year’s special session when lawmakers gather to draw new district lines.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat, hand-delivered a letter Tuesday to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to open the door for state lawmakers to consider expanding the state’s health insurance program to cover low-income adults this year. More than four dozen Democratic state representatives and 15 senators signed onto the letter.

The letter points to the governor’s recent comments that he may broaden the scope of the session beyond redistricting to include potential solutions for crime in Atlanta.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, has questioned whether the compressed timeframe – created by pandemic-delayed Census data and the late-year holiday season – will allow lawmakers to stray from the main task at hand. Lawmakers are also due to return for their regular session in January, just weeks after they likely finish up the new maps.

But it’s the governor who sets the agenda for a special session.

“If we are going to be including other things on the agenda, Medicaid expansion must be a top priority,” Wilson said at a press conference Tuesday. “It has to be our first order of business.”

Georgia is one of a dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Congress recently added additional federal sweeteners to the spring’s coronavirus relief package, which could deliver a net gain of about $710 million to Georgia.

“This discussion has been going on for far too long,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.

“Every year that we’ve delayed, not only are there hundreds of thousands of Georgians who remain uninsured, costing our hospital system, costing our economy, costing our communities, but we forfeit billions of dollars every single year that would flow into Georgia’s economy,” she said, referring to a federal match.

Kemp has instead proposed a slight expansion for those who satisfy 80 hours of work, school or other qualifying activity every month, which is expected to extend coverage to about 50,000 people and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Biden administration, however, has objected to the state’s proposed work requirement. And state officials informed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month that the July 1 launch of the program would be delayed until “at least” Aug. 1, which would be this Sunday. No new date for implementation has been set.

Wilson, who is also running for insurance commissioner, pointed to the new federal incentives for holdout states, as well as the Biden administration’s resistance to the governor’s plan, as reasons to change course.

“We know how this is going to play out. The Biden administration is making that perfectly clear. We also know, should Gov. Kemp’s administration decide to fight it in courts, we know how that will turn out. This has already been doomed from the start, and the urgency requires us to act now,” Wilson said.

The Democrats’ push to add Medicaid expansion to the special session agenda is unlikely to sway the governor.

“Governor Kemp is focused on working with the administration to implement Georgia Pathways and Access which will provide healthcare to tens of thousands of Georgians and lower costs for millions more,” Kemp’s press secretary, Mallory Blount, said when asked about the letter.

State Democrats are trying to increase the pressure on the governor and other GOP state leaders to expand health care coverage as congressional Democrats devise plans to work around them. Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux have introduced bills that would create a federal look-alike Medicaid program, with aspirations to have the measure added to the reconciliation package in the works.

“We have an opportunity for the state to accept responsibility, insure nearly half a million, if not more, Georgians and give them high quality health care access, and control the program here,” Wilson 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.