As the state’s healthcare system regroups after the latest surge in coronavirus cases, the advocacy group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams is launching a new seven-figure ad campaign that urges Gov. Brian Kemp to give struggling Georgians a shot in the arm by supporting an expansion of Medicaid.
The volley of ads released Wednesday by Fair Fight features three front-line healthcare workers who accuse Kemp of “playing politics” by opposing an expansion of the program, which he said would be too costly in the long run and would deny state health officials flexibility.
“Georgians are dying while we play politics with people’s lives,” said a hospital executive identified as Rose in a 30-second spot. “There’s federal money out there to help us, and Gov. Kemp refuses to take it. I wish he could see what I’ve had to see.”
Abrams and other Democrats are trying to turn up the pressure on Kemp ahead of his 2022 bid for a second term. She put expanding Medicaid at the center of her 2018 run for governor, and she’s likely to focus on the issue again next year in an expected rematch against the Republican.
The debate over expansion is at the heart of one of the biggest divides in Georgia, and it has dominated healthcare policy discussion in recent election cycles. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in 2019 showed that 71% of Georgians support expansion.
Since the Affordable Care Act was adopted, Democrats have insisted expansion would provide coverage to hundreds of thousands of needy Georgians while providing struggling hospitals and communities an economic boost. They’re joined by a handful of prominent Republicans who see it as a necessity.
The pandemic has only added to the calls, as hospital systems across Georgia were strained to their breaking points. With Democrats in control of Washington, U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have pressed to include new incentives in federal legislation to spur Georgia to expand the program.
Republicans, including Kemp and former Gov. Nathan Deal, have said funding Medicaid expansion would wind up being a financial burden, particularly if the federal government ends a matching program. They also say expansion would take state dollars from priorities such as public safety or education.
During his 2018 campaign, Kemp promised instead to back what he called an innovative conservative approach to cover more of Georgia’s poor. He backed an initiative to add an estimated 50,000 poor Georgians to the rolls over the course of two years by adding a work or activity requirement, such as working for a registered employer for 80 hours a month or attending college.
Democrats and health care advocates dismissed the waiver plan, known as Georgia Pathways, as a confounding half-measure that, even if fully implemented, would still leave more than 350,000 Georgia adults uninsured, according to estimates by Kemp’s office.
That plan is now in limbo in the Biden Administration, which would prefer to see Georgia join the 38 states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs. And Ossoff and Warnock want more funding in the reconciliation bill to close the Medicaid gap, though it’s not clear if the funding will remain in the social policy package if the pricetag is sharply cut.
Watch the ads here:
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Credit: Clayton County Police Department