Obamacare remains top issue in Georgia insurance commissioner’s race

As Georgia’s insurance commissioner, Republican Ralph Hudgens rarely hesitated to voice his criticism of the health care law known as Obamacare. The incumbent continued that mantra Sunday even while caught in a political crossfire from his two lesser-known opponents.

“I’ve said it’s going to limit choices, limit the number of doctors, and that premiums are going to increase,” Hudgens said Sunday at an Atlanta Press Club debate. “Those statements have been well legitimized by what has happened.”

But some of his other statements put a bulls-eye on Hudgens.

Democrat Elizabeth “Liz” Johnson said the commissioner failed to help uninsured Georgians sign up on the state health exchange, citing his promise to do “everything in our power to be an obstructionist” from his post. Meanwhile, Libertarian Ted Metz accused Hudgens of failing to inform Georgians about the effects the Affordable Care Act, which Metz also opposes, would have on their daily lives.

“While my opponent has focused on blocking affordable health care and denying Georgians with pre-existing conditions, over 300,000 Georgians enrolled in the first year,” Johnson said. “Ralph Hudgens won’t put Georgians first, but I will.”

An insurance agent for more than four decades, Johnson said she would work to decrease the state’s ballooning car insurance rates — which by some measures have risen to the second-highest in the nation. She also supports Medicaid expansion, which would extend insurance coverage to about 650,000 low-income Georgians.

Hudgens disputed the high car insurance numbers, saying that other studies have shown Georgia’s rates to be 1 percent less than the national average.

He opposes Medicaid expansion due to its price tag: The federal government would pay 100 percent of the expansion costs for the first three years and 90 percent after, but Gov. Nathan Deal estimated the move would cost Georgia $2.5 billion over 10 years. Deal has also said that, given the federal government’s own problems with debt, it can’t be relied upon to continue that funding at 90 percent of the cost of expansion.

“Frankly, the General Assembly can’t afford that,” Hudgens said.

Expansion supporters, however, say the true cost of expansion to the state would be closer to $350 million over 10 years after factoring in new sales, income and other tax revenue. That expense would be minimal, they say, compared with the roughly $30 billion in additional federal funds it would bring.

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