Celia Murray

Celia Murray

 

By Celia Murray, Columnist

The New Year brings with it a new legislative session, and this year, Georgia hospitals and doctors are at the Gold Dome pushing conservative leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, to expand Georgia’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The state’s powerful doctors’ association, the 7,000-member Medical Association of Georgia, recently voted to endorse the Medicaid expansion. The Georgia Hospital Association (GHA) is also actively lobbying state lawmakers to accept the expansion.

Gov. Deal insists the state can’t afford it, even though the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs during the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. Georgia hospitals are in trouble, with three having closed their doors last year, and many others shedding jobs by the hundreds.

As GHA Vice President Kevin Bloye explains, financial considerations are the exact reason Georgia needs the Medicaid expansion. Bloye told WABE’s Jonathan Shapiro, “We need Medicaid expansion in the state… 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.”

The financial woes of hospitals are directly tied to Deal’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion.

Public hospitals have long relied on federal funds, called DSH (Disproportionate Share Hospitals) payments, to offset the costs of treating uninsured patients.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, DSH payments will be gradually reduced by an estimated $17.1 billion between 2014 and 2020. States that expand their Medicaid programs will bring in new money that will more than offset these cuts.

But hospitals in states refusing Medicaid expansion will be put in an unexpected bind. Accepting the Medicaid expansion is critically important to all Georgians, not just the uninsured poor. Without the Medicaid expansion, hundreds of thousands of Georgians will continue to go without insurance, creating higher costs for everyone else in the form of increased insurance premiums and hospital bills.

Poor and uninsured people will continue to get sick, will continue to have more complicated illnesses because they don’t receive preventive or early care, and will continue to rely on hospital emergency rooms for their care.

Gov. Deal has steadfastly opposed expanding Medicaid, and until after the 2014 election, he’s likely to feel it’s safer for him to follow the party line. As columnist Jim Galloway points out, a fulsome debate over the issue in a GOP controlled legislature is also unlikely in an election year.

In the meantime, all Georgians will suffer. As Dr. Jacqueline Fincher, governor of the Georgia Chapter of the American College of Physicians, succinctly puts it, being uninsured in about life and death. Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee.