The day we thought would never come might actually happen. Georgia’s Republican legislators are mulling over the idea of taking federal money to insure the hundreds of thousands of Georgians they left high and dry when they decided not to expand Medicaid. State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), the same woman who wants to fund fake women’s health clinics, wants the state to consider negotiating a federal waiver to help the uninsured and save struggling rural hospitals from closing.
The federal waiver does not mean that Republicans are expanding Medicaid. Conservatives are hesitant do anything that would actually help Georgia residents, but even they are starting to see that their position is untenable — Georgia’s health care crisis will not be solved if we continue to block federal funding. The waiver would allow legislators to use the funds to pay private insurance companies on behalf of those who qualify for the program. In order to qualify for the program, you need to be one of the hundreds of thousands of Georgians living below or just above the poverty line.
Arkansas has used the program now for three years and so far it’s working. Doctors, hospitals, and nurses get paid more than if the patient uses Medicaid and patients get proper healthcare. Yet, some legislators worry about the cost of uncompensated care that falls on the state, which is 10 percent or 200 million annually. The state is now trying to find alternatives to the program where people stay insured and the costs are low.
Let’s be clear: Unterman’s suggestion that legislators “open that box and look just a little bit and see what’s available” is a half-measure. We need Medicaid expansion. States that have chosen to expand Medicaid are faring much better healthcare-wise and economically than those that have chosen to block tax dollars from coming back to their states. But if nothing else, Unterman’s statements — at least symbolically — provide a bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, Georgia conservatives aren’t quite as out of touch with reality as they seem to be.
It is interesting to note that none of this would be possible if the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare were not in place. The reason the states are able to cover so many under the “private option” is because ACA has made the cost more manageable. In a way, the state will force residents to use ACA despite having fought tooth-and-nail to get it repealed. Georgia Republicans might be seeing the error of their ways. Five Georgia hospitals have closed on Gov. Deal’s watch — leaving many to fend for themselves — and Deal still refuses to expand Medicaid.