Georgia’s state Capitol

Capitol Recap: Health care draws the spotlight in Georgia, U.S.

It was a busy week on the health care front, both in Georgia and nationally, and covering a range of issues.

Pre-existing conditions drew attention with a push from President Donald Trump.

In an op-ed for USA Today, Trump wrote that during the 2016 campaign, he vowed “that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.”

That sent The Washington Post into fact-checking mode.

“Trump made this promise, but broke it,” the Post reported. “He supported Republican plans that would have weakened protections for individuals with preexisting conditions. His administration also has refused to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit that would undermine those protections. In effect, the Trump administration no longer supports a provision of the ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare, that makes it possible for people to buy insurance if they have preexisting health conditions.”

There’s a Georgia part to the lawsuit mentioned by the Post. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is among a group of Republican attorneys general from across the country who are involved in a Texas lawsuit seeking to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. They base their case on Congress’ elimination of the individual mandate as part of last year’s federal tax overhaul. Without the mandate that was so crucial to how the ACA functioned, they say, it no longer is constitutional.

The suit came up during the Atlanta Press Club/GPB debate between Carr and his opponent in November’s election, Democrat Charlie Bailey. The first question to Carr dealt with pre-existing conditions.

Carr said he is “not opposed to pre-existing conditions in any way.”

“In fact,” Carr said, “once this law is declared unconstitutional, and Congress has to do it the right way, I call on them to include pre-existing conditions.”

Another section of the ACA calls for the expansion of Medicaid. Georgia is one of the 17 states that has opted not to expand.

Democrat Stacey Abrams has made Medicaid expansion a top priority in her campaign for governor, while Brian Kemp has followed the path established by Gov. Nathan Deal and other leading Republicans in the state by opposing it. The Republicans say expansion would cost the state too much in the long term.

Abrams’ supporters say there’s too much to gain to take a pass on expansion. They say it would produce a $3 billion boost to the state’s economy and that it would provide insurance to 473,000 more Georgia residents. The federal-state program currently provides health care to 2 million poor and disabled Georgians and pays for the state’s elderly residents to live in nursing homes.

But even if Abrams becomes governor, she really won’t be able to expand Medicaid.

That’s because lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2014, when Deal was running for re-election against Democrat Jason Carter, voted to take the power of expansion out of the governor’s hands and give it to themselves.

They’ve shown no inclination to do so, even though polling has been fairly consistent in showing most Georgians support expansion.

This past week, a SurveyUSA poll, conducted for 11Alive, found 70 percent of registered Georgia voters support expansion, including 55 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans.

Similar polling has also shown support in the 70s. The AJC poll in January, timed for the opening of the legislative session, put support at 73 percent. An AJC poll in 2017 put support at 75 percent.

Cut, paste, mail: Some Republicans who have written letters supporting Brian Kemp, the GOP candidate for governor, and slamming Democratic rival Stacey Abrams won't be getting high marks for originality.

Habersham County Democrat Virginia Webb isn’t the only one to note this, but she did it in great detail.

“While researching online in Google, I noticed a letter to the editor of the Savannah Morning News written by Rep. Jesse Petrea,” Webb wrote. “That letter is word-for-word the same as written and submitted by Rep. Terry Rogers.

“The next Google item was the same letter to the editor, written by Rep. Rick Williams in Milledgeville’s The Union-Recorder.

“Then in the Marietta Daily Journal, Rep. Matt Dollar has also submitted the exact letter, word-for-word. Finally, in a two-minute search, I found another letter to the editor – with a few changes – from Rogers’ original letter, from Rep. Trey Kelley in northwest Georgia.”

Contract work? Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich once helped Republicans win control of the chamber, and now he could help them maintain their dominance.

Politico reports that Gingrich — a former Georgia congressman and the driving force behind the 1994 Contract With America that shifted the reins of power in the House to the GOP — met recently with President Donald Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity. The topic of discussion, according to two people familiar with the plans, was strategy for November’s midterm elections.

Gingrich, it reported, had written an “expansive memo” for Trump about how the GOP can preserve its majorities in the House and Senate.

Courting a fight: A Democratic candidate for a state House seat is ready to take Republicans to court over a mailer that says an “ongoing criminal investigation” is underway, looking into his background.

Josh McLaurin, who is running for the seat being vacated by state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, has hired former state Rep. Stacey Evans as his attorney.

He is seeking a retraction from the Georgia GOP.

The Republicans are sticking to their guns, saying the state Elections Board is investigating whether McLaurin registered to vote in Roswell while he still lived in New York and misrepresented his residence when he declared his candidacy.

“McLaurin is under investigation for violating two state statutes, violation of these statutes are felonies under the law, and they are crimes even if he is not prosecuted for them,” said Carmen Foskey Bergman, the state Republican Party’s executive director. “I’m not sure what word to use for that type of investigation other than ‘criminal’.”

A tripping point for Republicans could be that their candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, in his role as Georgia’s secretary of state, upheld McLaurin’s eligibility just before the May 22 primary, rejecting the challenge of Republican Gabriel Sterling, a former Sandy Springs city councilman.

Evans, last seen running for the Democratic nomination for governor, said she’s looking forward to holding the Georgia GOP accountable.

“The truth still matters, even in politics,” she said. “The Georgia GOP’s attack mailer against Josh McLaurin is blatantly false and they know it. Not only do voters deserve to know the truth, but also the law demands it.”

Looking for a job? Evans also may have other plans.

The Marietta Daily Journal, in a story noting that Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce has not said whether he’ll run for re-election in 2020, asked Evans whether she had any interest in the job. She didn’t say.

She wasn’t the only one. Cobb Commissioner BobOtt, a Republican, also didn’t say no.

The paper says Louie Hunter, a former Cobb commissioner and lobbyist at the Gold Dome, has expressed an interest.

It’s academic: Two of Gov. Nathan Deal’s top staffers have decided to check out the college scene now that he’s in his final days in office.

Julia Ayers, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, will join Kennesaw State University this month as an associate vice president for government relations.

Jen Talaber Ryan, Deal’s top spokeswoman, will fill a similar role with the Board of Regents.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Geoff Duncan, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, has claimed the support of more than two dozen Georgia sheriffs.

— Duncan’s Democratic opponent, Sarah Riggs Amico, was recently joined on the campaign trail by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Gillibrand is considered a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2020.

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