Georgia heading in wrong direction on health care

Rep. Carl Von Epps Contributing Columnist

February 23, 2014

Last week, the Lower Oconee Community Hospital in Wheeler County became the fourth Georgia hospital in the last 14 months to close its doors because of “dire financial straits.”

In the wake of the announcement, Jimmy Lewis with the Hometown Health rural hospital group was quoted as saying, “As with so many Georgia hospitals, this one has struggled with low county population combined with high unemployment, high uninsured and complex reimbursement.”

When a hospital closes in a small community, the citizens not only lose their main source of medical care, they often lose one of their major employers, further devastating the local economy.

But instead of taking action to improve the situation, many of our state’s top governmental leaders appear to be doing everything in their power to deny access to affordable health care to our citizens.

First of all, Gov. Nathan Deal continues to refuse to accept federal funding to expand Georgia’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act - despite the fact that 650,000 presently uninsured Georgians would be covered.

With the federal government completely paying for the expansion the first three years and 90 percent of the costs thereafter, Georgia would receive an estimated $3.4 billion per year - which would help our hospitals keep their doors open and boost the economy by providing tens of thousands of new health care jobs.

Inexplicably, the highest-ranking officers of the House of Representatives introduced legislation last week that would prohibit the governor (in the event he changes his mind) or any other official from expanding Medicaid in Georgia. The chair of the House Health & Human Services Committee retracted a statement she made earlier in the legislative session suggesting that some rural hospitals need to be closed, but this proposal indicates the House leadership agrees with her original position.

Finally, and perhaps most cruelly, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has joined in filing a lawsuit that would prevent thousands of Georgians who have already enrolled in health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act from receiving the federal tax credits that make their monthly premiums affordable.

If the attorney general’s lawsuit is successful, these Georgians would undoubtedly lose their coverage and the state’s number of uninsured residents would rise significantly.

All of these developments are severely troubling, and the only plausible explanation is that the governor, attorney general and top House leaders are more interested in partisan politics than making public policy decisions that would actually help Georgia’s citizens and economy.