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Health Reform: Expanding Medicaid

Guest Blog By Tim Sweeney

Good day everyone! I’m Tim Sweeney, Sr. Healthcare Analyst with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, and I’m honored and excited to be a contributor to this new health blog being launched by Georgians for a Healthy Future. I’ve been working on healthcare policy issues here in Georgia for nearly five years now, and I’m happy we now have a new avenue for us to talk about healthcare issues in Georgia and to share ideas and perspectives


Without a doubt, healthcare issues are more in the forefront of the national and state debate now than in quite a long time. At the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute we strive to bring credible facts and figures to the debate, so that the decisions made are well-informed and the likely effects of the decisions are well-understood. Furthermore, we strive to examine the issues with a keen eye towards how policies and proposals will affect low- and moderate-income Georgians.


Right now, the loudest parts of the healthcare debate are centered on whether there will be a public option to compete with private insurance and what arbitrary price-tag the final legislation will have. Often less discussed are the aspects of the proposals that would provide significant funding to help millions of currently uninsured individuals and families finally afford coverage; in particular, provisions that expand the Medicaid program to cover individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level (about $13,800 for an individual and about $24,300 for a family of 3).



While many believe that these individuals and families already have access to public health insurance programs, the reality is that childless adults don’t qualify for Medicaid in Georgia and that parents must have very low incomes to qualify. As a result, roughly half of all adults in Georgia with incomes below 133% of poverty lacked health insurance coverage in 2008.


In order to help states expand coverage to these currently ineligible individuals, many proposals under consideration in Congress include significant federal funding directed to cover the bulk of state expansion costs for this group. The version of the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee, for example, provides funding to cover 95% of the costs of the Medicaid expansion in Georgia, while the state would only be responsible for the remaining 5%. This means that for every $50 million the state invests in the new expansion population, Georgia would also receive $950 million in federal funds. These additional federal funds would reach providers and communities throughout the state, and more importantly could give more than 400,000 uninsured (and currently ineligible) Georgians access to the healthcare system.


Comprehensive health insurance reform certainly has a lot of moving parts, and is only a first step towards a healthcare system that better meets the needs of the nation’s consumers and providers. Expanding the nation’s Medicaid program to enable greater access to healthcare services for low-income populations that are all-too-often left out is a critical aspect of the reform efforts. By attaching significant federal funding to help states with this expansion, current congressional proposals are a great first step to ensure that more Americans (and Georgians) have access to our health care system.


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