By Andre Jackson
Two bills signed into law last month erect new roadblocks for Georgians or straying government officials who wish to participate in the national health care reform law.
The new restrictions are a predictable reaction to a sweeping federal program that remains unpopular with many Georgians, as shown by this newspaper’s latest poll . We get — and respect — that.
Yet, we also believe it’s worth saying that state government’s ongoing war with Obamacare is risky for Georgia and its citizens. That’s the case even given the shockingly flawed launch and systemic shortcomings of the ACA.
Put simply, Obamacare remains the law of the land. And Georgia’s leaders discount that at potential peril to both our residents’ health and our future prosperity as a state.
Ongoing battles over the ACA unduly shift attention away from the sobering problem of how to offer basic health insurance coverage to an additional half a million poor Georgians. Leaving them uninsured should not really be an option for a state with global ambitions.
Not fixing this problem also leaves Georgians with the bill for whatever haphazard health care is otherwise administered to our poorest uninsured residents. It’s the old adage of you can pay upfront now — or pay later, more inefficiently and indirectly.
All of that should be enough to prime Georgia to take another hard look at Medicaid expansion in some form. The new state laws make that task harder. House Bill 943 bars state or local governments from advocating Medicaid expansion and forbids the creation of a state-run health insurance exchange. Package that with House Bill 990, which snatches authority to expand Medicaid from the governor and gives it to the General Assembly, and the intent of our elected officials is transparent. No ACA, no way.
It’s hard to imagine a sitting governor signing away a power of the executive branch in a state where governors have at times found themselves forced to be the adult in the Gold Dome and veto troublesome legislation. Gov. Deal rightly did just that recently when he vetoed a secrecy bill for private probation providers.
Now that the General Assembly has asserted their power over the expansion decision, they owe it to constituents to seriously explore cost-effective ways to insure some of the poorest people in our midst.
They should absorb research and real-world experience alike that indicates many Georgians view the ACA differently than do many politicians. A January poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 57 percent of respondents indicated Georgia should expand Medicaid. In full disclosure, our latest poll last week found that 61 percent of Georgians surveyed believed that Obamacare needed either major modifications or should be eliminated altogether. And 53 percent of those polled said the law had, so far, had no effect on them or their family.
The above data shows the ACA is still seen as unpopular and flawed. Yet it continues toward full implementation. As a practical matter, how can Georgia best work with that present reality.
Hewing tightly to an ideological ideal does not seem the most productive strategy.
Our stonewalling sends a message to Washington that’s considerably stronger than “No Thanks.” And it’s perhaps had unintended consequences. Has our blockade of the ACA, for example, influenced the Beltway’s heel-dragging on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project — an expenditure of federal money Georgia officials strongly favor?
And the longer we keep the ACA at bay, the longer Georgia taxpayers will be in the unenviable position of seeing their federal tax dollars being used to help subsidize the 26 states that have signed on to Medicaid expansion. Accepting that should make Georgia’s ultimate one-tenth share of the cost of Medicaid expansion seem less onerous.
And it should make it worthwhile to look at places like Arkansas, which has won Washington approval for a plan offering private insurance to the Medicaid-eligible.
Such a method of expanding coverage to more of the poor seems to have commonsense merit. And it seems within striking distance of Georgia’s idea that Washington remit Medicaid funds in a block grant to be used for indigent coverage as the Gold Dome sees fit.
Another idea’s been proffered by the free market-leaning Georgia Public Policy Foundation. It would use tax credits to pay for the purchase of private health insurance.
These proposals show that there are workable, politically palatable options out there to increase access to health insurance. Doing so will result in a healthier state and work force. And it will aid our ambition of becoming a world-class state in which to live and do business. To do otherwise acts strongly against those audacious goals.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.