Mar 21, 2024 - News

Georgia lawmakers nix Medicaid expansion bill

Gold Dome of the Georgia General Assembly

A last-minute push to expand Medicaid in Georgia failed to clear a Senate committee. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A last-minute proposal to expand Medicaid in Georgia died in a Senate committee on Thursday, effectively killing any progress on the topic for the 2024 legislative session, which ends next week.

Why it matters: Georgia is one of 10 states that have not fully expanded the federal program. Doing so could provide more than 400,000 people with greater access to health care, according to KFF, a nonprofit foundation that publishes health care research and journalism.

The latest: The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee rejected the Peach Care Plus Act sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Lucas.

  • It would have authorized the state to obtain a waiver from the federal government to buy private health insurance for people who make around $20,000 a year, or 138% of the federal poverty level.
  • The bill narrowly failed with a 7-7 tie vote.

What they're saying: Lucas said expansion would cost about $580 million in Georgia but added that the federal government has $1.2 billion set aside to help states offset the costs.

  • "Your ZIP code ought not to matter about your healthcare," he said. "That's what's happening in Georgia."
  • Natalie Crawford, executive director of Georgia First, said expansion would help hospitals struggling to serve the people in their communities.
  • "There is a critical need to close the health care coverage gap in Georgia," she said.

The other side: Republican committee members said Gov. Brian Kemp's Georgia Pathways to Coverage program, which offers Medicaid to people making about $15,000 a year if they work or are in school, should be given an opportunity to work.

  • "Why shouldn't we give the governor a chance to see if Pathways can succeed, before you cut his legs out from under him?" asked Sen. Bill Cowsert, chairman of the committee.
  • Sen. Ben Watson said the legislation needed "a little more time" to "mature a little bit." He added, "My goal, and I think our goal, here is (to) have everybody in the state of Georgia covered."

Context: Georgia's Pathways program launched in July and has only about 3,500 people signed up, according to the AJC.

  • The program has cost the state $26 million, and the vast majority of those expenses are for administrative and consulting services, the AJC reports.

The big picture: After millions were booted last year from the country's Medicaid rolls following the expiration of pandemic-era protections, states have started to rethink how to offer services to their most vulnerable residents, Axios' Maya Goldman reports.

  • States including North Carolina and Nebraska have been given the federal government's OK to tweak programs to meet residents' needs and provide sufficient political cover.
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