02/14/2019 -- Atlanta Georgia -- Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference with lawmakers and members of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in his office at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Thursday, February 14, 2019. Governor Kemp introduced the MY Georgia Crisis and Access Line application which provides information to people who need care and features a crisis line that individuals can use when in need. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Nonprofit hospitals back Kemp Medicaid waiver plan for Georgia

One day after House Democrats came out blazing against Gov. Brian Kemp’s Medicaid “waiver” bill, they lost perhaps their biggest piece of ammunition.

On Wednesday, Democrats stood together in the Capitol to declare their opposition to limited waiver initiatives such as Kemp’s proposal, and to voice their support instead for full Medicaid expansion to all of Georgia’s poor. In doing that, the Democrats have often invoked the plight of the state’s nonprofit hospitals, which bear the financial brunt of caring for the uninsured poor. Those patients show up at the emergency room when they haven’t been able to get care anywhere else, and the hospitals lose money caring for them.

But on Thursday, heavy-hitters with the state’s nonprofit hospitals issued a joint statement backing Kemp’s bill.

The signers to the statement included the CEOs of Navicent Health, a large system of hospital and health care facilities based in Macon, and Grady Health System. Grady Memorial Hospital delivers more charity care than any other hospital in Georgia. They were joined by the two lobbying groups for hospitals in the state, the Georgia Hospital Association and Hometown Health, a private consulting group to rural hospitals.

“Passing Senate Bill 106 would be a positive step toward improving our health care delivery system and (increasing) access to care for those who need it most,” Grady CEO John Haupert said in the statement. Ninfa Saunders, the CEO of Navicent, said they “wholeheartedly support SB 106”

During the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams chose Grady Memorial Hospital as the location to announce her health care plan, emphasizing the impact Medicaid expansion would have on public hospitals that care for the poor.

The hospital itself has walked a finer line.

Monty Veazey, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said Thursday that his group also supported the statement. He said they agree with Democrats that Medicaid expansion would be good. But they disagree with the Democrats’ all-or-nothing approach.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Veazey said.

The Democrats’ biggest concern was a limit in the bill that would restrict the population covered by any Medicaid expansion to those who make up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $12,000 per year for an individual. Full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would cover those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,000 per year.

“We hope that the governor will see his way to increase that (100 percent cap to 138 percent) so that we can cover more lives,” Veazey said. “We’re very supportive of it. I think it’s a beginning that we have not had in the past.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

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