By Janet Cummings
In 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal has an opportunity to improve the health of 650,000 low-income Georgians and bring more than $33 billion of federal money into our state over the next 10 years by saying yes to one program: the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, slated to begin in 2014.
The expansion would reduce the number of uninsured Georgians by more than half. By doing so, not only would thousands be able to access preventive services, primary care, and other needed medical treatment while avoiding more costly care in our emergency rooms, but lives will be saved. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that deaths declined by 6.1 percent in states that voluntarily expanded their Medicaid program compared to neighboring states that did not.
Many of those on the front lines of our health care delivery system — physicians, hospitals, and health clinics — strongly support the expansion. The Georgia Chapters of the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Georgia Rural Health Association, Grady Health System, Georgia Public Health Association, and AARP Georgia are among the members of the Cover Georgia coalition, an education and advocacy campaign organized to support Medicaid expansion.
Outside the medical field, the Medicaid expansion would also benefit many of Georgia’s small business owners. Under the federal law, businesses with more than 50 full-time employees must offer health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty based on the number of workers. If Georgia opts out of the expansion, employers could be responsible for providing insurance to thousands of workers who would have otherwise qualified for Medicaid. Franchise owners of restaurants and retail businesses, for example, could lose a lot of money if Georgia does not participate.
Opponents have said that Georgia cannot afford its share of the Medicaid expansion, estimated by the governor’s budget office at $4.5 billion over 10 years. But when you consider the cost-benefit analysis, it’s clear that this is an investment that we cannot afford to ignore, one that can only make Georgia stronger.
Janet Cummings is an assistant professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.