Dem state lawmaker urges Kemp to expand Medicaid to fight COVID-19

A top Georgia Democrat says COVID-19’s stress on the health care system underscores the need to expand the state’s insurance program for the poor and disabled.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, urged Gov. Brian Kemp to use his increased public health emergency powers to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And if the governor doesn’t, he called on his colleagues in the General Assembly to expand access when they reconvene this summer.

“It’s just a necessary part of both our response for Georgia’s health and also to make sure that we’re shoring up providers and hospitals who are providing this care,” Trammell said on a video call with reporters Tuesday.

The virtual press conference was sponsored by Protect Our Care, which is an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the embattled ACA, or Obamacare.

Georgia Democrats have long – and persistently – advocated for expanding income eligibility for Medicaid, which would extend health care coverage to about a half million people. Georgia is one of 14 states that did not expand Medicaid.

The Kemp administration has submitted applications to the federal government that would allow Georgia to slightly expand its Medicaid rolls, but the plan also includes a controversial work requirement that critics say would dull the impact. The governor has adamantly opposed full expansion, which he has criticized as too costly and ineffective.

And when the General Assembly gavels back into session, whether next month or in June, lawmakers will likely return to a limited legislative agenda and much of their work will center on the state’s finances. The COVID-19 outbreak, which unexpectedly forced lawmakers to suspend their session on March 13, has brought much of Georgia’s economy to a standstill.

Medicaid expansion isn’t likely to be among the legislation that lawmakers take up.

“The Speaker’s outlook on Medicaid expansion has not changed,” said Kaleb McMichen, who is the spokesman for Republican House Speaker David Ralston.

Trammell argued that expanding Medicaid, which would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, would help plug holes for uncompensated health care at a time when hospitals have had to delay revenue-producing elective procedures.

“The virus is not going to go away,” Trammell said. “We do not have a vaccine at this point. So, the reality is that Georgians will continue to get sick.

“If there’s one thing we’ve realized very clearly from the COVID-19 pandemic is that each individual’s health in Georgia is interrelated to the health of other individuals,” he added. “No one is in isolation. So, whether you have coverage or don’t have coverage, the risk is real if we have Georgians who don’t have the ability to go to the doctor in a timely way or at all. It poses a health risk to everyone else.”

As of Wednesday night, state health officials reported about 26,000 positive tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Nearly 1,200 people had died.

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