Politics

Ga. Lawmakers, Advocates, Uninsured Await Healthcare Change

The HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Georgia has one of the highest rates of people without health insurance in the nation.
The HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Georgia has one of the highest rates of people without health insurance in the nation.
Credit Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

Lawmakers, Advocates, And Ga.’s Uninsured Wait On D.C.

With the state legislative session a month away, Georgia lawmakers and advocates want details on how exactly Republicans in Washington will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Before that, they say, there’s little they can do to significantly reduce Georgia’s uninsured population, which is somewhere above one million.  Georgia has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation.

While many are unsure of what’s next for healthcare in the state, there is certainty about one thing: Georgia will not ask for millions in federal dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state has refused the money for three years now. It could have meant insurance coverage for a half million Georgians.

“That discussion probably effectively came to an end election night,” said Republican House Speaker David Ralston.

President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal Obamacare.

“I’m not saying that there aren’t some things that we can do during the period of time of replacement,” Ralston said, “but I think we’re all looking forward to see what the broad outlines of the replacement are going to look like.”

Ralston said he “recognizes” there are “too many uninsured Georgians,” but he said until Congress says how exactly they’ll replace Obamacare, lawmakers here will just have to wait.

Ralston expects the Legislature will try to bolster Georgia’s struggling rural hospitals, and he said he’s concerned the state doesn’t have enough primary care physicians.

When it comes to reducing the number of uninsured Georgians the state can’t do much, said Cindy Zeldin with Georgians for a Healthy Future; it needs federal money.

“Because one thing that we do know is that this is difficult to impossible to address only at the state level and only with state money,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin suggested lawmakers could still take the federal Medicaid dollars before Obamacare goes away, but that’s unlikely. Meanwhile, she said sick, uninsured Georgians still need care, and as the political process unfolds, she said many are asking where to go.

“It’s difficult to provide that answer that there isn’t an option for you right now,” Zeldin said.

It could be two to three years until Congress fully replaces Obamacare.  

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