State Sen. Renee Unterman Talks Obamacare, Opioid Crisis

State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, spoke with WABE’s Denis O’Hayer about the future of the Affordable Care Act and the opioid crisis.

Al Such / WABE

Amid a lot of uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act, open enrollment began this week for consumers looking for health care insurance for 2018 under Obamacare.

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One thing is certain, premiums will go up for most people, and Georgia is one of the states that’s been most affected.

As the roughly 500,000 Georgians who rely on Obamacare weigh the program’s future, Denis O’Hayer sat down for an extended conversation with State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, chair of the Health and Human Services committee.

The two discussed Republican efforts to derail the Affordable Care Act and the recent declaration of the opioid overdose crisis as a national public health emergency.

expanded conversation with Sen. Unterman

Open enrollment and the Affordable Care Act

On the efforts of the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers to attack Obamacare

“If you’re trying to get me to criticize the White House and this administration, I’m not going to do that. I am thoroughly in favor of repeal and replace. I’m one of those state legislators that was disappointed that we have a Republican congress, a Republican executive office, and we can’t get something through.”

On whether confusion about the fate of Obamacare will leave Georgians without insurance coverage

“I’m not sure they end up with coverage. I think they think they have coverage. But I answer all those phone calls when they think they have coverage, and then they can’t find a physician, they can’t find a provider, they can’t find a hospital. It’s a sad situation.”

On how to pay for medical care for the uninsured

“If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, it is that uncompensated care. It’s uncompensated care that is 100 percent state dollars. That’s why I’ve said all along that we would be negligent as elected officials if we didn’t put everything on the table. When you’re in the middle of the crisis, you have to look at everything, you have to be amenable, and I believe you have to compromise.”

On whether Gov. Nathan Deal should explore a way to expand Medicaid without waiting on a recommendation from state lawmakers 

“I think he already is pursuing it and I think those individuals — I know them. And I know that they’re just like me — they know that we’re in a crisis. And they know that if you’re going to take care of all Georgians, everything needs to be on the table.”

The opioid overdose crisis

On President Donald Trump’s focus on abstinence

“The number one thing we need to do is education and to let people know that this [opioid crisis] exists — that, if you go to your physician, and they want to write you a prescription, and they want to write you a prescription for 30 pills in a bottle, you say, ‘No, I think I can do fine with just five. Just give me five.’”

On whether Trump should allocate federal funds to help states fight the crisis

“I really don’t think it’s his position to sit down and write the policy and write the regulations. It’s up to Congress. He announced a national public health emergency, and I was very very pleased with that, but I think it needs to go one step further. Congress needs to step up to the plate.”

On whether drug manufacturers and distributors should be held legally responsible for underplaying the risk of opioid addiction

“I think physicians, I think that insurance companies, I think everybody is to blame. I think the average consumer is to blame. There is a lot of blame, but I don’t think we should look in the past. I think we should be looking into the future.”