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Northeast Georgia Health System supports Ga. Senate Medicaid bill
Kemp-backed measure seeks waivers intended to expand coverage, drive down costs

The Northeast Georgia Health System is supporting a Georgia Senate bill passed on Tuesday that would seek federal waivers to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income residents.

“Northeast Georgia Health System supports the efforts of Gov. Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly to pass Medicaid waiver legislation that will help cover health care services for more of our uninsured and indigent patients,” Deb Bailey, executive director of governmental affairs at NGHS, told The Times in a statement.

NGHS joins other hospital networks, such Navicent Health in Macon and Grady Health System in Atlanta, as well as the Georgia Hospital Association, a lobbying group, in supporting the Patients First Act.

The measure cleared the Senate 32-20. It now goes to the House for consideration.

“I think the act is a good first step for us to evaluate changes that need to be made at state level to address the vast number of uninsured Georgians,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, told The Times.

Democrats opposed the measure, favoring instead a plan to fully expand Medicaid for up to 500,000 Georgians as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Kemp applauded the passage of the bill, calling it a “critical step toward more innovative, accessible, and affordable health care for hardworking Georgians.”

The governor said he doesn’t understand Democrat opposition to a provision in the waiver focused on driving down private sector health care costs. He called their insistence on full Medicaid expansion “stubborn.”

Georgia is one of 14 states that haven’t fully expanded Medicaid as prescribed under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion was intended to be nationwide, but a 2012 Supreme Court ruling effectively made it optional for states.

Kemp has stated that full Medicaid expansion isn’t an option.

Democrats worry Kemp’s Medicaid waiver plan will increase health care costs and cover fewer people compared to a full Medicaid expansion.

Among their biggest concerns: Kemp’s proposal will not cover Georgians who fall slightly above the poverty line, as was required under the original call to expand Medicaid under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Kemp’s bill would cap that eligibility at the poverty line, limiting the number of people who could receive Medicaid benefits.

Senate Democrats accused their Republican counterparts Tuesday of shutting down debate on the plan after the Senate voted to consider the bill without allowing for any amendments.

“This is life or death. We should be ashamed that we are not letting this be open to debate,” said freshman Democratic Rep. Zahra Karinshak of Duluth.

Simple amendments would improve the bill and give it a chance for bipartisan support, said Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson of Stone Mountain, one of the measure’s most vocal critics.

Democrats noted that the federal government has agreed to pay 90 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid if the state government includes people slightly above the poverty line, as required by the ACA.

They said that Kemp’s plan could preclude them from such a deal, noting that states like Massachusetts and Arkansas failed to get such a high match rate from the federal government, after trying to cap Medicaid eligibility only up to the poverty line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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