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Health care faces crisis, Deal says
Rep. also speaks about legislation to help lake
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal speaks Monday to the Gainesville Rotary Club. - photo by Harris Blackwood
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, told members of the Rotary Club of Gainesville on Monday that a financial crisis looms in the federally funded Medicare program a decade from now.

Deal, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Health, told the civic club that a significant population in the 9th Congressional District, which he represents, is already dependent on government health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The 9th District includes Hall County and 14 other counties in Northeast Georgia.

"At the current rate of growth, Medicare trustees project that the Medicare trust fund will be exhausted, that is bankrupt, by the year 2019," Deal said. "Social Security, the largest entitlement program, this year will have some 77 million baby boomers who are going to be eligible."

Deal said that the Social Security system will be paying out more than it takes in by 2017.

The congressman said 42 percent of the residents in his district receive some form of government health coverage.

"Of our total population in our congressional district, 16 percent are on Medicaid, and 26.2 percent are on Medicare," he said. "Some 42.2 percent of our district are covered under one of those two major government-controlled health care programs."

Deal said that number does not include the number of children under PeachCare, the state name for the federal SCHIP program.

"SCHIP covers a little over 7 million children, including 356,000 in Georgia," Deal said, adding that Georgia spent about $328 million for the program.

There are currently 8,708 children in Hall County enrolled in PeachCare.

He was critical of Democratic efforts to expand the program to include some adults and to increase eligibility to as much as 350 to 400 percent of the poverty level.

"You’re talking in rough, general terms of families making $85,000 to $95,000 a year being able to enroll their children in a government-controlled and paid for health insurance plan," Deal said, adding that he expects the SCHIP program to be revisited by Congress before the current extension ends in 2009.

Deal also talked about his legislation that would reauthorize a series of dams on the Flint River, an effort to reduce some of the demand on Lake Lanier.

"The truth is, the Chattahoochee River basin was never intended to be the primary tributary to deal with the downstream flow at the Florida line," Deal said.

He told of how Jimmy Carter, both as governor and president, fought the federal projects on the Flint and eventually began steps to have them deauthorized.

"Without the ability to have a reserve on the Flint and no reservoir to call on in times of drought, the only
reservoirs you could call on are those beginning with Lanier and working down the chain," he said.

Deal said any solution on the Flint would take time and face stiff opposition from environmentalists.

"Building new reservoirs is always going to be a difficult undertaking," he said.

During a question and answer session, Deal was asked for his thoughts on the presidential race and which Democrat would present a tougher challenge for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the presumed GOP nominee.

"We do know Sen. (Hillary) Clinton has high negatives," Deal said. "We don’t know what the (Sen. Barack) Obama factor will be in terms of recent developments."

Deal said the biggest question for the GOP is who will be McCain’s running mate. He predicted that a vice presidential candidate will face additional scrutiny because of McCain’s age.

"I don’t think he’s going to make a decision (about a running mate) until he knows who his opponent is going to be," he said.

Deal, who shied away from an endorsement in the Super Tuesday primary, has endorsed McCain for president.

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