Georgia Republicans still stand, feet planted firmly, in the hospital doorway — barring many of their fellow Georgians from obtaining the health care that they need, that the law allows, and that they ought to have as fellow human beings living in one of the richest nations on the planet.
That position is not sustainable. Not politically, morally, ethically or financially. And once their bit of grandstanding against Obamacare has run its course, it will still be important to count up what it cost Georgia: the lives that could have been saved, but were instead lost; the hospitals that could have remained open, but instead closed; the tens of thousands of jobs that could have been created, but instead went elsewhere. And for what?
Already, the impact is significant and growing. By refusing to expand Medicaid, our state leaders have denied coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income, working Georgians and cost the state economy billions of dollars.
As financial analysts at Fitch Ratings announced earlier this summer, states that have accepted expansion have already begun to see healthier bottom lines for hospitals once on the edge of closing. Meanwhile, Fitch warns, “We expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond.”
From the beginning, the GOP’s blockade at the hospital doorway has been predicated on the notion that Obamacare was a doomed program, fated to collapse and be repealed. That will not happen. In 2014, five years after its passage, Obamacare will help to provide health insurance to some 13 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2015, that number will rise to 20 million. By 2016, it is projected to rise to 25 million.
The 2016 Republican presidential nominee is not going to campaign on repealing Obamacare and taking health insurance away from 25 million Americans. Even now, in 2014, Republicans who not too long ago were gleefully promising to make Obamacare the central issue in the mid-terms go days and weeks without even mentioning it.
Of course, thanks to a law passed earlier this year, expanding Medicaid in Georgia will now require permission from both the governor and the state Legislature. Intended as a gesture of defiance, in reality that too is a confession by Georgia Republicans that they are on the wrong side of history, and they sense it.
They look at Arkansas, a red state that has accepted Medicaid coverage and cut its uninsured rate by almost half. They look at Pennsylvania and Florida, where conservative Republican governors fighting for re-election have belatedly embraced expansion. They look at Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and Ohio, where GOP governors have sought expansion, and at Utah, Tennessee and Wyoming — all three red states — that are soon expected to follow suit.
The same is true of red Arizona, where conservative Gov. Jan Brewer successfully championed expansion over protests from GOP legislators. “I knew I had not chosen the easy path,” Brewer said. “But I learned a long time ago that what is easy and what is right are rarely the same.”
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com