Georgia’s campaign against ObamaCare self-destructive

“The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care,” President Obama said last week, referring to GOP efforts to undermine ObamaCare. “Why is it that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail? Their number one priority?”

That’s a good question, particularly here in Georgia, where the state’s Republican leadership has made it a point of honor not to prepare for ObamaCare and to try to undermine it at every opportunity. They seem to view the program as something imposed on the state by an unfriendly occupying power, rather than a law passed by Congress and signed by the president, and they have refused to cooperate in any way with its implementation.

Under pressure from Tea Party groups, for example, state leaders have refused to set up an insurance marketplace, insisting that the federal government do it for us. Our Legislature has passed a silly law that attempted to “nullify” ObamaCare in this state. And while other states are running public-service campaigns in an effort to educate their citizens on how to take advantage of the program — particularly those citizens with pre-existing conditions who might benefit immensely — Georgia is not.

In addition, Gov. Nathan Deal has refused to allow Medicaid to be expanded in Georgia, blocking a key piece of the federal effort to increase the number of insured in Georgia. That decision is particularly egregious given that Georgia is tied for the fourth-highest percentage of uninsured in the country. In rural areas of the state, where the problem of the uninsured is particularly acute, a shortage of patients with the ability to pay their bills has put local medical-provider systems under financial duress.

Nonetheless, Deal has refused to allow Medicaid to cover an additional 650,000 lower-income Georgians who currently have no insurance whatsoever. Deal cites cost to the state as an excuse, even though the federal government is committed to pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years. After 2016, the federal share will gradually taper until it reaches 90 percent in 2020, and will remain at that level thereafter.

That additional coverage would do wonders for the medical industry, again especially in rural areas of Georgia, where a lack of hospitals and doctors has become an economic development challenge.

According to economic modeling by William Custer, a health-finance expert at Georgia State University, Georgia would receive an additional $40.5 billion in Medicaid funds from 2014-2023 if it were to participate. That in turn would create more than 70,000 new jobs, add an average $8.2 billion to statewide economic output and generate $276.5 million annually in state and local taxes.

A lot of that impact would have occurred in parts of the state where new jobs are scarce. It would have meant more than 4,000 additional jobs in the Albany area, for example, and more than 6,000 new jobs in northwest Georgia. In northeast Georgia, which includes Deal’s home of Hall County, more than 3,500 jobs would be created.

Let me venture out on a limb here: If the federal government were offering to move a massive military base to Georgia that brought 70,000 new civilian jobs and an $8 billion annual economic impact, our state leaders would be doing cartwheels at the offer (and yes, with some of them that mental image is amusing). Yet when a similar offer is made involving medical insurance to poor people, they turn up their dainty noses in disdain. Apparently, loyalty to party ideology is more important to them than the economic and medical well-being of the people of this state.

As a consequence, taxpayers in Georgia will now be subsidizing expanded Medicaid in other states, where they need it less, while enjoying none of the economic benefits here at home. In fact, it’s already pretty clear that those states that have treated ObamaCare as an opportunity will maximize the program’s benefits for their citizens, while Georgia and others that have stubbornly tried to sabotage it will fare far worse.

I’m not sure why anybody would be surprised by that.

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