Bookman: Cynicism of Georgia GOP leaders robs poor of access to a doctor

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Jay Bookman, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

April 18, 2024

Health care is not a luxury item, a commodity reserved for those who can afford it. It is a basic human right.

Health care eases pain. It reduces suffering. It extends life and enhances life. It helps the lame to walk, the sick to heal, the old to age gracefully. The joy that a newborn baby brings, the relief and comfort that hospice provides … from beginning to end, throughout our lifespans, health care is essential.

A society that is economically and medically capable of providing health care to its members, yet chooses not to do so, is inhumane. Unfortunately, our state of Georgia fits that description.

We have the second highest uninsured rate in the country, and even in the midst of an historic economic boom the number of fellow Georgians without health insurance is rising, not falling, by the hundreds of thousands.

Why? Because of conscious choices made by those elected to govern us, and because we continue to elect those who make such choices.

It’s certainly not a question of resources. Our state’s coffers are full to overbrimming, and the federal government is committed to paying most of the cost of expanding Medicaid to cover those unable to get insurance elsewhere. In fact, it currently costs the state of Georgia more money NOT to provide health care to its poor than we would spend in providing it. On top of all the human costs and the social costs of such a policy, the refusal to expand Medicaid costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Think about that: Those who govern us are so callous, so stubborn about not providing health care to their fellow Georgians, that they’re willing to cost the state money to continue not doing so.

That’s perverse. Kentucky expanded Medicaid five years ago. Louisiana did it eight years ago. Arkansas implemented its version three years ago, as did Missouri. North Carolina finally did it in 2023. Even Mississippi seems closer to adoption than Georgia.

Again, why?

Normally, the place to look for an explanation of such obstinance would be politics, but you would look there in vain. In a poll taken in January by the University of Georgia, almost 70% of registered voters in Georgia said they support expanding Medicaid “to cover all the state’s uninsured poor.” Georgia Republicans supported Medicaid expansion by 47-39%. A majority of self-described Georgia conservatives backed it by a margin of 51-36%.

Nationwide, according to a poll by KFF, a health-policy research group, 60% of Americans now have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, with only 39% of Republicans saying they would still support repeal. The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is so popular now that even Donald Trump says he opposes its repeal, claiming instead to have a secret plan to make it “much better than it is right now and much less expensive for you.” (He doesn’t.)

And yet, here in Georgia, Medicaid expansion is still off the table.

Maybe – and I’m just guessing here — it’s a question of timing. The second and final term of Brian Kemp as governor ends in 2026, when he is expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Jon Ossoff. Maybe the plan is to delay expansion for another two years, so that Kemp can sign it into law just as he launches his bid for federal office. He’d be playing hero by solving a problem that he himself helped to create.

If it sounds cynical to suggest that politicians play with human lives like that, maybe it is. But I guarantee you cynicism plays a role in this somehow.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.