Ga. Leaders Must Deal With Existing Health Care Law After Senate Vote

The website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says he had been waiting to see what Congress would do on health care, and after an early Friday vote, “we will have to re-evaluate where we are now,” according to his spokeswoman Jen Ryan. 

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The Senate failed to pass a key vote that would have kept repeal-and-replace efforts alive. So now the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, remains the law, and Georgia officials have to make some decisions on how to move forward.

The Georgia Hospital Association says it will work with state leaders and others to solve what it calls  ”the uninsured crisis.” Ethan James, the group’s executive vice president of external affairs, says the state’s 170 hospitals lose $1.7 billion a year in uncompensated care.

“We do expect additional efforts to address the uninsured crisis,” James said. “Here in Georgia, we have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of uninsured patients who show up in the emergency room who still receive care.” 

Georgia has the second-highest percentage of uninsured residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, with 14 percent of Georgians not covered. 

Health advocates say more than 300,000 Georgians lack insurance because state leaders decided not to expand Medicaid, saying it would be too costly in the long run.  

They say other conservative states have expanded Medicaid through a waiver program that gives them more flexibility. Under such a program, Georgia could design a state-specific version of Medicaid expansion.  

“In Medicaid expansion, states’ premiums have been 7 to 8 percent lower,” said Laura Colbert with Georgians for a Healthy Future, a group that supports Medicaid expansion. She says with more people in the insurance market, premiums go down for everyone. 

Some state lawmakers have started to talk about Medicaid waivers, especially in light of a looming crisis around rural hospital closures.

At a legislative hearing on rural health, state Sen. Dean Burke said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a former Georgia state senator, would support a waiver from his home state. 

“Tom Price has said, bring him innovation in the form of a waiver and he will entertain anything as long as it makes sense,” Burke said.