Opinion: Georgians can’t wait. Close health care coverage gap now


Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC


Do you know someone who doesn’t have health insurance?

Odds are the answer is yes. Perhaps, it’s the cashier at your local grocery store. The construction worker who waves when you pass by each morning. Or a member of your family, who is holding down a part-time job while taking night classes.

With nearly 1.4 million uninsured Georgians, we are all likely to have people in our lives who fall into the health coverage gap – nearly half a million are unable to afford private health insurance yet earn just above the threshold to qualify for Medicaid, the health care program for poor and disabled Georgians. Closing the gap would help hardworking farmers, gig workers, parents and more than 30,000 veterans and their spouses who contribute to our economy and need affordable health care.

Natalie Crawford

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

Our state must do better. That’s why I started Georgia First, which coordinates a coalition of more than 20 organizations committed to expanding health coverage. Bringing together leaders in health care, business and others in the public and private sectors, we fight for sensible policies that meet the needs of our fellow Georgians and will strengthen our state.

Last week, the Georgia General Assembly voted to create a commission to study the health care coverage gap. Though it is helpful that this critical issue will remain the subject of more discussion among legislative leaders, we must ensure that their goal is action to address the coverage gap, not simply a study that gathers dust on a library shelf.

House Bill 1077, “The PeachCare Plus Act,” heard in the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee on Thursday, would provide for an innovative model unique to Georgia that would provide coverage to nearly half a million of our fellow Georgians, and improve the health, economy and social well being of our state.

Closing the coverage gap would keep $3.6 billion of our federal tax dollars in Georgia. We now pay to support health care expansion elsewhere without reaping the benefits for our own residents. The state is also eligible for a $550 million signing bonus to close the gap which our state can use however it sees fit.

Plus, increasing health care access has been shown to result in significant state savings, including by providing access to preventive care and mental health services that reduce child welfare and law enforcement costs. It would also create more than 64,000 jobs.

We also have the chance to help struggling rural hospitals be able to keep caring for their communities. This issue is particularly meaningful to me. As the daughter of two nurses, I saw firsthand how important our local hospital was to Habersham County.

During my two terms as a county commissioner, I fought to ensure the hospital could stay open, despite the mounting costs of uncompensated care. Nine rural Georgia hospitals have closed since 2005; as many as 18 more are now in danger of ending or dramatically reducing services because patients can’t afford to pay for needed care and reimbursement for their care costs is so low.

Many other advantages of closing the gap would accrue to all Georgians, including:

· Incentivizing more primary care providers and specialty doctors to practice in rural parts of our state, as many counties don’t have a single doctor who is a pediatrician or obstetrician.

· Keeping premiums lower for all of us, as data from other states who have closed the gap indicates that insurance premiums in Georgia could be at least 10 percent cheaper.

· Helping uninsured mothers and newborns, as our state has one of the country’s highest maternal death rates with 33.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee found 84.96 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable

· Providing access to mental health treatment will shift reliance from the already burdened emergency rooms and jails that serve as front-line mental health facilities and that place undue burdens on law enforcement.

It is no wonder that there is widespread support for closing the health care coverage gap all across the political spectrum. Recent polling commissioned by Georgia First shows that 76 percent of Georgians, including 60 percent of Republicans, support closing the coverage gap.

I hope the new commission tasked with further study recognizes the urgency of this issue for Georgians and our state’s economy and leads the way toward action that closes the healthcare coverage gap.

Natalie Crawford is a Republican, former two-term Habersham County Commissioner and executive director of Georgia First.