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Senator wants health exchanges addressed
Unterman says legislation was derailed by tea party members
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The state should address health exchanges despite opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, Sen. Renee Unterman, R- Buford, told the Hall County Chamber of Commerce's Healthcare Committee Wednesday.

Unterman, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said legislation about exchanges, marketplaces mandated by the federal law where individuals can shop for health insurance plans, was derailed in the General Assembly session by Georgia Tea Party members. The state of Georgia has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the health care legislation and Unterman said tea party members worried that addressing exchanges showed support for the bill.

"I would much rather be prepared," Unterman told the chamber's health care committee. "I would much rather see the train coming down the track and know what we've got to do versus not doing anything. ... If we don't do it the feds are going to come in and do it for us."

Unterman said she expects Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a committee to address the health exchanges.

She said the state cannot afford the federal law as it currently stands.

"It's putting so many more onto the Medicaid and we can't afford the people we have already," she said. "It's a drastic situation."

During her Hall County visit, Unterman also addressed several pieces of health care legislation that passed during the last session, including a sex-trafficking bill she supported and Deal signed Tuesday. Utterman said human trafficking becomes an issue in cities, such as Gainesville, where there is regular population influx.

The bill increases penalties for human trafficking and offers increased education for law enforcement on sexual exploitation.

"It's generated through the Internet, a lot of it, that kids are bought and sold as young as 12 years old," she said. "... It's just pervasive in our society and Atlanta and Georgia is one of the top places in the nation, but we're also one of the top places doing something about it. We've recognized that we have a problem."

Unterman also praised the passage of House Bill 214, which will pull the Division of Public Health out of the wider Department of Community Health and create a separate Georgia Department of Public Health.

Unterman said public health has been "at the bottom of the barrel" and the restructuring will bring it to the forefront.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who attended the event, said he's optimistic the change will give the department more autonomy.

"It puts (public health) back up on an equal playing field with the other agencies," he said. "And that's critical."

The meeting was also attended by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.