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Expand Medicaid to Reduce Uninsured

Governor opposes adding to Medicaid rolls despite federal funds

Cheryl Christian, Georgia’s largest free clinic new clients are often unemployed people 50 to 64 who lost their health insurance

Cheryl Christian, head of Georgia's largest free clinic, says new clients are often unemployed people 50 to 64 who lost their health insurance. AARP wants Medicaid to expand to cover many of them. — David Walter Banks

The recession has changed the face of the patient population at the Good News Clinics in Gainesville.

Now many of the 2,000 patients are people 50 to 64 years old who lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.

"Many were in middle management," said Cheryl Christian, the clinic's executive director. "They had insurance all of their lives. Then all of a sudden they didn't."

Top priority for AARP

AARP Georgia's top legislative priority this year is getting many of those people — and hundreds of thousands of others in the same boat — covered under Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor.

Currently, Georgia permits eligible individuals with incomes up to $2,820 ($4,272 for a couple) to enroll in Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands the eligibility by increasing the income caps and requires the federal government to pay the full cost of those extra enrollees for three years.

Under the ACA, individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level — in 2012 that was $15,415 for individuals, $20,879 for couples — would be eligible when the law goes into effect in 2014.

That expansion would increase Medicaid enrollment from about 1.5 million to 2.1 million mostly uninsured Georgians, according to the state's estimate. About a fourth of the new enrollees would be between 50 and 64.

But Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Georgia can't afford the extra Medicaid enrollees even though the federal government would pay the full cost in the first three years and then phase down to 90 percent of the cost by 2020.

In upholding the ACA, the U.S. Supreme Court said states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion. As of last month, Deal said that's what he plans to do.

Deal questioned whether the federal government will have the financial resources to follow through on its promise.

Even if it does, he said, Georgia will not be able to cover its share down the line, which he estimated at an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years. The state spends about $2.5 billion a year on Medicaid.

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