The messaging battle over changes to state health care plan

State health officials are readying big changes to the state's new health care plan in response to the outcry from some of the 650,000 teachers, public employees and others covered by the policies. But behind the scenes, a debate is raging over how to explain them.

The argument from Gov. Nathan Deal and other conservatives is that President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is partly to blame for the rising costs and fewer options under the new state plan. Deal said as much last week, and some Republican lawmakers are using the tumult to push legislation that seeks to exempt the state health plan from changes under the Affordable Care Act.

Another example is the newsletter state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, sent to constituents this week, which warned of a $63 tax per insurance policy under the federal health care changes:

"This is ONE of MANY reasons why your state health benefits plan insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays are increasing. This increase is a result of the federal government trying to COMANDEER the assets of the state of Georgia and infringe on our sovereignty."

Democrats and their supporters reject that notion. The left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute released an analysis Friday that said the governor "scapegoated" Obamacare to mask the state's unpopular switch to a single healthcare provider.

The analysis, by Tim Sweeney, argued that the changes required, such as more preventive services and the ability to allow parents to keep their children on their health insurance plan until they're 26, "can hardly be thought of as harmful to plan members." Said Sweeney:

"The ACA is a politically charged issue here in Georgia, so it is not surprising when employers try to hide behind the law to deflect responsibility for the health care decisions they make. Georgia’s decisions to offer plans from just one insurance carrier and to offer only high-deductible plans at that, were not forced upon it by decisions in Washington."

As we noted on Friday, both parties tend to listen when teachers get angry. Especially when it happens to be an election year. And regardless of whether the changes likely to be approved on Monday satisfies them, expect to be hearing about the fallout until November.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.