For the first time publicly, the state’s largest hospital advocacy group says Georgia needs to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health reform law.
Georgia is one of 25 states that so far have opted out of the expansion.
Kevin Bloye of the Georgia Hospital Association, which represents 174 hospitals across Georgia, says state leaders must rethink their opposition.
“We need Medicaid expansion in the state. We need some sort of relief that will help address some of the financial challenges that the health care provider community is facing,” said Bloye. “These issues are real. They’re not going to go away and we trust leadership that they’re going to work with us on this.”
Gov. Nathan Deal insists the state can’t afford it, but Bloye says financial considerations are the exact reason Georgia needs to expand.
He says hospitals are in danger of closing.
“We’ve had three [hospitals] close in the state since the beginning of the year and we fear there may be more in the future if we don’t get some positive changes,” said Bloye.
In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, but made a critical component of it optional – the Medicaid expansion. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 400,000 of the poorest Georgians won’t get coverage due to the state’s opposition to expansion.
Since the court decision, Georgia’s health sector has paid close attention to GHA, considered among the most influential lobbying groups at the state Capitol. As recently as this summer, the group had stated they were still “collecting data” and “studying the issue.”
Bloye says GHA members have been supportive of expansion for some time, but now the group will be advocating “in a different way” to convey the message.
In a written statement, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said GHA’s position offers “no substantive change to the facts facing us.”
“The Obama administration needs to acknowledge that the Supreme Court altered the rules of the game. About half of states are saying the exact same thing: The money is not there,” said Robinson.
Bloye, however, said given Georgia’s slow economic recovery and the scheduled federal cutbacks for hospitals that care for the uninsured, health providers don’t have many options.
He said the evidence is in the hundreds of hospital layoffs announced just in the last few months.
”We understand what the governor is saying and at the same time we’re trying to convey our concerns that we’re getting these major cuts that have helped funding the ACA, but we’re not getting the returned coverage that was promised by the federal government,” said Bloye.
Hospital and patient groups are applauding GHA’s decision to join expansion efforts.
“Hospitals are the number one employer in many of our communities across the state. What happens to a hospital affects the entire community,” said Amanda Ptashkin of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a member of the pro-expansion coalition Cover Georgia. “Having GHA engage on this issue and speak up about the importance of it is incredibly important.”
The state’s two other major hospital advocacy groups – HomeTown Health and the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals – have already come out for expansion.
Bloye said GHA’s advocacy efforts will focus directly on the governor and state leaders, rather than organizing and participating in forums or protests.
“We have a great relationship with state leadership and we want to keep it that way,” said Bloye. “We just feel like there’s a better way to handle this. Those dollars are there and the need is great.”