WASHINGTON -- The health reform bill the Senate will take up next week would extend coverage to 1.7 million Georgians -- either through expansions in Medicaid or by allowing them to enroll in public insurance exchanges -- who do not currently have health insurance, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
By requiring Georgians to have health insurance, the Senate proposal would save billions of dollars in "uncompensated" losses to insurance companies, doctors and hospitals -- losses that Georgia taxpayers and those with insurance currently foot the bill for, according to the report. Billions more could be saved by reducing the costs of out-of-pocket deductibles, co-payments and premiums for all Georgians, it contends.
Georgia's Republican lawmakers, however, counter Democrats' claims of big savings, saying both the bill already passed by the U.S. House and the bill pending in the Senate would cost the state -- and all its residents -- dearly.
"They are just sliding the costs off to the states … that's (why) governors are extremely upset -- both Republican and Democratic governors," Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said at a Republican Governors Association meeting last week. "We understand that it's our taxpayers in our states that will have to fund the mandates coming from Congress, and that's intolerable."
According to Perdue and the Republican governors group, expanded Medicaid costs under the U.S. House bill would cost Georgia $2.5 billion over five years.
In Washington, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- herself a former governor -- said she understands the concerns of Perdue and others. But, she added, they aren't mentioning the potential savings to the states.
"The costs of doing nothing is a huge burden on the states," she told reporters Monday. "It’s not only a burden that they pick up in terms of insured costs and a sicker workforce and less preventative care, but it is a burden they pay for directly in state employee premiums.”
In addition to covering the 1.7 million Georgians who don't have health care coverage, the report from Sebelius's office (see http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/statehealthreform/georgia.html) claims that under the Senate health plan:
*879,000 Georgians could qualify for tax credits for insurance premiums to help them purchase health insurance.
*1.1 million seniors would receive free preventative services such as wellness visits or colonoscopy screenings.
*203,000 seniors would see their prescription drug costs reduced through changes to Medicare.
*106,000 small businesses in Georgia could qualify for tax credits to help them provide health insurance to employees.
Like Perdue, Georgia's two Republican senators say they costs of Democrats' health care plans outweigh the benefits. Both U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss say they plan to vote against the Senate health bill.
Republicans say the Senate bill would result in nearly $494 billion in tax increases and $465 billion in Medicare cuts for seniors.
“This bill is bad for Georgia, bad for families and small businesses, bad for our seniors and bad for America," Isakson said in a statement over the weekend.
It "would raise taxes, raise premiums and drive millions of Americans to a public option where there is no option," he said.