Politics

Should Georgia Explore Medicaid Expansion Alternatives?

Dr. Ileana Fuentes, examines seven-year-old Cardji Caliste, who is covered by Medicaid, at the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami.
Dr. Ileana Fuentes, examines seven-year-old Cardji Caliste, who is covered by Medicaid, at the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami.
Credit Lynne Sladky / Associated Press

Georgia, and many other states with Republican governors, turned down Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Last week, Florida unveiled an alternative plan that could allow the state to take advantage of the federal money that’s up for grabs.

WABE’s Michelle Wirth spoke with those on both sides of the federal healthcare debate to see if they think Georgia should come up with a similar plan.

The Florida plan is being hailed as a “free market solution.” It was put forward by a group of prominent Republicans and business leaders. The plan would provide coverage for the neediest residents, but they would also be required to pay monthly premiums, get job training or look for work.

Cindy Zeldin with Georgians for a Healthy Future is encouraged by the proposal. Her group has advocated strongly for Medicaid expansion.

“The Florida plan seems to be part of a trend among some states that hadn’t been moving forward last year but now seem to be interested.”

But Zeldin says her organization dislikes the monthly premiums and job seeking requirements, because she thinks they would provide barriers to access. Still, she hopes the Florida proposal will encourage Georgia lawmakers to come up with their own version. If state leaders develop a Georgia plan she says, “It’s important that it facilitate access to care and that it be reflective of the Georgia population and the Georgia healthcare system.”

Kyle Jackson heads the National Federation of Independent Business here in Georgia. His organization was part of a lawsuit that challenged Obamacare. He says the Florida plan is better than the federal one, but if a similar plan was proposed here Jackson says, “I think any time you’re relying on the federal government to keep a risky promise like this you’re potentially putting the taxpayers and the small business owners of Georgia on the hook. That being said, it hasn’t been balloted yet, so we wouldn’t have an official position.”

Diane Rowland is Executive Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation. She says now that the Midterm elections are over, Florida and a number of other states are negotiating with the federal government over Medicaid expansion. If federal officials say yes to their plans, states can take advantage of Medicaid dollars and also meet their political goals.

“It says they’re doing it their way instead of applying directly to the way the federal government is rolling out the expansion.”

Rowland says so far a handful of states have been allowed to move forward with alternatives.

Some states require Medicaid recipients to pay monthly premiums or pay more for frequent trips to the emergency room. Others like Arkansas use federal dollars to buy private insurance. But Rowland says so far the federal government has turned down Medicaid plans with work requirements.

WABE contacted several state lawmakers but they were unavailable for an interview or did not respond by deadline. 

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