Lawmakers are actually considering Medicaid expansion

[private]Healthcare advocates have spent the past six-plus years beating their heads against a closed door at the capitol as they try to get legislators to at least consider the issue of Medicaid expansion.

On Wednesday, before a Senate study committee, they could finally see the door opening, even if just a little.

The committee chaired by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) is looking at the possibility of Georgia enacting its own version of Medicaid expansion that would use a federal 1115 waiver to get some of the funds available through the Affordable Care Act.

That’s a significant development in a legislature dominated by Republicans who have usually not missed an opportunity to trash Obamacare, and the healthcare advocates who testified before Bethel’s committee seemed simply grateful for the change in position.

“We’re so glad that the committee and the legislature are looking at these issues,” said Cindy Zeldin, director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “Coverage really is foundational for both individuals and families to access healthcare.”

“We’re really encouraged that you’re looking at options to close the (Medicaid) coverage gap,” said Laura Harker, health policy analyst for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI).

The ACA expands income eligibility for Medicaid coverage from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent in states that choose to accept ACA funding to expand coverage.

So far, Georgia is one of 18 states that is still refusing to expand this coverage, resulting in a gap that traps people who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but don’t make enough to qualify for premium tax credits at the state health insurance exchange.

The legislature is now at least looking at the possibility of a Medicaid waiver similar to one granted in Arkansas where some of these federal funds are used to help low-income individuals and families pay the premiums for private insurance coverage – and thus help close the gap.

“Where do people in the gap go? Typically, they end up at one of our hospitals,” said Tim Kibler, a spokesman for the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals. “I hope this can be a way to craft a way of closing the gap.”

Georgia’s failure to close the Medicaid gap, which could bring in an estimated $3 billion a year in federal funds to pay doctors and hospitals, “is one of the largest obstacles getting in the way of financial stabilization” (for fiscally ailing hospitals), Kibler contended.

Senators on Bethel’s study committee primarily listened to comments from the healthcare advocates. Bethel said he would schedule a second hearing for mid-November.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: ACA , Charlie Bethel , healthcare advocates , Medicaid expansion , Senate study committee