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Georgia Democrats again call for Medicaid expansion


(The Center Square) — Georgia Democrats again called on the state to expand Medicaid, saying Republicans should act before the current legislative session ends on Thursday.

They point to $1.2 billion in federal money to help cover the cost of a Medicaid expansion.

Rather than outright expanding Medicaid, Georgia launched the Pathways program on July 1, 2023. It provides Medicaid to Georgians between 19 and 64 in households with incomes up to the federal poverty level who are not eligible for regular Medicaid. Participants must perform at least 80 hours of “qualifying activities per month,” such as full- or part-time employment, vocational educational training, or community service.

However, Democrats have derided the program, pointing to reports of high costs and low enrollment. State officials have blamed the feds for the program’s slow approval. Last month, Georgia officials filed a lawsuit against the federal government, saying it unnecessarily delayed the state’s rollout of its Georgia Pathways to Coverage program.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked by The Center Square if there were concerns about relying on federal money given the burgeoning national debt, Democrats said their efforts at the federal level to lower medical costs lower the annual deficit.

“The question [Republicans] are not asking is how much it is costing us right now and how much it has been costing us for the past 14 years to not expand Medicaid because that is a significant cost that far exceeds the amount of money that the state would have to outlay to cover half a million people,” state Rep. Michelle Au, D-Jones Creek, said during a Wednesday virtual media conference in response to a question from The Center Square.

“The other thing I want to note is that Republicans will always make this point of, ‘well, you know, right now, it’s a pretty good federal match — 90% federal match plus the enhancements. But what if that match goes away? Then we’re on the hook for all this extra money, right?"” Au added. “I hear this constantly. What we need to remember is that this 90% federal match is the minimum, and that is written into law.”

Au said the federal match would not drop below 90% unless the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

“That is a spurious argument,” Au said. “It’s meant to scare people away from what is a very reasonable fiscal argument — that this is money that we have been paying for the past decade-plus, that is not returning to our state to pay for our own health care costs.”

During a Senate Committee on Regulated Industries & Utilities meeting last week, state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said 50,000 Georgians will be enrolled after a year and 85,000 after two years. That leaves roughly 200,000 Georgians out of 11 million residents uncovered, adding that is the same number of Arkansas residents uncovered, though the state has about 3 million residents.