Georgia Democrats protest Kemp’s Medicaid waiver bill

Georgia Democrats in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday stood together to denounce Gov. Brian Kemp's health care proposal to deal with poor and middle-class Georgians struggling with health care costs.

At a press conference called on the steps inside the state Capitol, they said the bill falls short of a cheaper, stronger, faster solution the state ought to enact but hasn’t because of Republican ideology.

"SB 106 is not an acceptable solution," said state Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, the vice chairwoman of the House Minority Caucus.

The bill would give the governor broad powers to shape a couple of health care programs for the state. He would ask the federal government to waive its standard national rules in order to create a program tailored to Georgia, so it’s called a “waiver.” Some states have received waivers to expand Medicaid to parts of their uninsured poor populations.

The Democrats say the state is being asked to spend $1 million and wait years to develop a state-specific waiver when what it should really do is just expand Medicaid to the whole population that’s eligible for it under the Affordable Care Act, from those without any income up to those who make 138 percent of the poverty level. That’s about $16,000 a year for a single individual.

Nonprofit groups have estimated that expanding Medicaid could insure 300,000 to 600,000 Georgians.

One of the few limits the bill has written into it is that the state would not go all the way to 138 percent of the poverty level, but would only give the governor the power to propose covering the population up to 100 percent of the poverty level.

Stopping short at 100 percent of the poverty level might also mean that the federal government declines to give Georgia the special 90 percent level of federal matching funds that is reserved for states that expand Medicaid. The federal government matches regular Medicaid funds for Georgia at 67 percent.

State Rep. James Beverly, the House Minority Caucus chairman and a Democrat from Macon, said after the press conference that "I think people get stuck in their ideology and can't throw it loose." He said Kemp is "a great guy" with the wrong policy.

SB 106 flew through a Senate committee Tuesday. Should it pass the Senate, it may have a tougher time in the House.

ExploreFIVE THINGS TO KNOW: A Georgia Medicaid waiver