Georgia’s health is in crisis, and Gov. Kemp’s law won’t fix that

By Stephen Gurley

Expansion of healthcare-coverage to Georgia’s uninsured population was the most talked-about issue debated during the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle, for good reason.  Georgia currently has the fourth worst uninsured rate in the country, with up to 480,000 adult Georgians stuck without affordable access to coverage.  Many of these individuals fall in what’s called the “Medicaid Gap,” meaning they earn too much money to qualify for existing state Mediciad programs, but don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on employer-based plans.  This forces them to pay out-of-pocket for the entirety of their medical expenses, driving many to forego care.  Georgia’s leaders’ failure to address this has dire consequences for the health of Georgians. Numerous abysmal health metrics demonstrate the crisis so many Georgians struggle with daily. 

In the face of this crisis, Governor Kemp proposed SB109, now Georgia law, which partially expands Georgia’s Medicaid up to only 100% of the federal poverty level, or those earning about $12,000 or less per year. This would expand coverage to only about half of those 480,000, leaving the rest out to dry.  Estimates have shown that “traditional” Medicaid coverage to include all those 480,000 would cost the state about $469 per enrollee.  Meanwhile, Kemp’s new Medicaid waiver law is estimated to cost the state around $1560 per enrollee given that partial expansion means fewer federal dollars sent back to Georgia via the ACA.  Altogether, Governor Kemp’s new health law will cost the state upwards of $375 million per year.  

While more folks covered is better than no folks covered, Governor Kemp’s plan fails to live up to the promise of Medicaid expansion.  Much like only half-plugging leaky holes in a sinking ship, this plan only half-solves this crisis, allowing Georgia’s health to sink further.  Dire crises require bold solutions, and only a full expansion will save Georgia’s sinking ship.

Stephen Gurley is a medical student at Emory University School of Medicine and member of the H-STAT Board of Directors.

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