A new path toward healthcare access

With a new waiver law on the books, Georgia should be innovative and broad thinking in how to provide health care access to more of our 500,000 uninsured people.
Gold Dome.

Gold Dome.

Georgia now has a health insurance waiver law on the books. That’s a notable, positive accomplishment for a state that previously had forcefully said “No Thanks!” to Obamacare options – and federal money – that could have been used to reduce the number of uninsured people here.

Driving Georgia lawmakers’ previous rationale was a deep distrust of Obamacare in a conservative state. A good part of that centered around how would the state pay for any expansion of Medicaid. That was reinforced by skepticism that the feds would stick to their obligation to pay at least 90 percent of the cost over the long-term.

While Georgia dithered, other states – several as conservative as ours – signed on to an Affordable Care Act that proved a lot more legally resilient than many would have predicted. Several other Red states found politically palatable ways to sign up using “waivers” that, once approved by Washington, allowed them to tailor programs that would pass muster with state-level lawmakers and voters. As of early April, 33 states had signed on to the ACA in some form, according to think tank The Commonwealth Fund.

Over time, states like Arkansas and Kentucky gained significant improvements in the health of their poorest residents, thanks to innovative ways to expand access to health care.

More broadly, it makes sense too that a healthier state population will have positive economic ripple effects on workforces and communities. A healthy health care system is seen as vital to economic development today, and companies and workers alike look askance at weaknesses in this regard.

Enhancing access to healthcare – and the means to pay for it – can also help struggling hospitals in Georgia that provide a reported $2 billion in care each year that’s not directly paid for. In line with there being no such thing as a free lunch, those of us with private insurance indirectly end up paying part of that tab via marked-up costs on our bills.

The Georgia Patients First Act signed into law last month by Gov. Brian Kemp has the potential to put this state on a path that, if done well, could significantly reduce the number of uninsured people here. Given Georgia ranks fifth in the U.S. in its number of people without health insurance, gaining ground here is a worthwhile goal. The Georgia General Assembly and Gov. Kemp are right in recognizing that need.

We’re early in the process to determine what waivers of both Medicaid coverage and of stipulations governing private health coverage under state insurance exchanges will look like in Georgia. We believe a sense of pragmatism, innovation and a sincere desire to provide as many poor Georgians as possible with better access to health care will serve this state well.

One effort that’s rightfully gaining attention here is a program at Grady Memorial Hospital. As reported in this newspaper last week, Grady has set up a specialized clinic intended to draw in frequent users of its emergency room. The commonsense objective here is that the clinic can be a more-effective, less-costly way than the ER for people to seek treatment for health problems.

Gov. Kemp has rightly praised Grady’s Chronic Care Clinic. “People are very excited about this, and I am as well,” Kemp recently said on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB.

We’re happy that the governor has high praise for Grady’s effort to think differently about ways to efficiently improve health care for poor people. Georgia will need a lot of this kind of smart, goal-driven innovation to provide coverage for many of the 500,000 uninsured people here.

It’s encouraging that the effort to fill this gap is now underway, and it should be pursued with zeal and appropriate speed.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

Today, we also offer the viewpoints of two local think tank leaders. Although they generally occupy different ends of the political policy spectrum, their thinking is encouragingly similar in recognizing the broad problem here and the levers that need to be turned to help fix it. Also, only on AJC.com, the head of The Georgia Hospital Association offers his group’s insights into the fiscal challenges faced by many of the state’s 180 hospitals.

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