ATLANTA — The Georgians most likely to benefit from Medicaid expansion are the same low-income workers who have done the most to prop up the state’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
Georgia is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid coverage during the decade since a Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
Expanding the joint state-federal health insurance program to Georgians with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level would add about 452,600 uninsured adults to the Medicaid rolls, according to the report.
Those newly enrolled would include the cashiers, cooks, maids, waiters and construction workers who have been forced to go to work every day during the pandemic while those in other professions have been able to work from home.
“Expanding Medicaid to Georgia workers is a powerful way to thank them for the work they did to keep our state’s economy moving over the last year,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of the nonprofit Georgians for a Healthy Future.
While Colbert’s group and others have pushed for Medicaid expansion in Georgia for years, supporters say the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law last month includes new incentives for states that have not expanded Medicaid.
According to the Georgetown report, Georgia would gain an estimated $710 million in federal funds beyond the costs of the expansion, a net savings that could be used for other purposes including education, public safety and/or workforce development.
“Covering low-income, uninsured Georgians through Medicaid was already a good idea for our state,” Colbert said. “The new incentive makes it a deal too good to pass up, especially for struggling rural communities.
Indeed, earlier research conducted by Georgetown concluded Medicaid expansion would particularly benefit Georgia’s rural counties. The nine counties with the highest uninsured rates for workers are rural, led by Atkinson and Wheeler counties with uninsured rates of 35.1%.
Both Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and GOP predecessor Nathan Deal have opposed expanding Medicaid in Georgia through the Affordable Care Act. Kemp and other opponents have warned there’s no guarantee the federal funding would continue to flow after the first two years of Medicaid expansion.
Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said the total price tag of the American Rescue Plan and other COVID-19 relief legislation Congress has passed during the last year will add up to an astounding $6 trillion during the next 10 years.
“At some point, the federal government is not going to keep up with its obligations,” he said. “We can reasonably expect the state’s portion of that [Medicaid expansion] burden will be even higher than advertised.”
Kemp applied last year for a federal waiver providing a partial expansion of the program covering adults earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the waiver last October. But after Biden took office, the new administration withdrew the approval, citing work requirements included in the waiver.