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Georgia Republicans: State Can’t Afford Health Care Reform

Georgia’s House Republicans have a simple warning for Democratic leaders still hoping to pass health care reform this year: Our state can’t afford it.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Republicans argue that the Democrats’ plans to expand Medicaid, a program funded jointly by state and federal governments, would squeeze the state’s already strapped budget and threaten other vital programs.

Georgia has estimated that the cost of the House and Senate passed unfunded mandates, for just new enrollees, would cost a staggering $2.64 billion under the House version (not including the Stimulus extension or a Primary Care Reimbursement increase) and anywhere from $1.54 billion to $1.79 billion under the Senate version.

This raises many concerns since Georgia currently cannot afford the cost of expanding Medicaid under the House and Senate bills. Due to the crippled economy, Georgia is facing significant budget problems and has been forced to make cuts to current services including K-12 education, public assistance, corrections, transportation and others.

Signing the letter were Georgia GOP Reps. Tom Price, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, Nathan Deal, Lynn Westmoreland, John Linder and Paul Broun.

They have a point. Democratic leaders have proposed a Medicaid expansion precisely because it’s one of the cheapest ways to extend coverage for the uninsured, who tend to be lower-income folks. But Medicaid also suffers periodic funding problems because, as a safety net program, enrollment tends to jump during economic crises when states are least able to afford the additional costs — a fundamental funding flaw that neither the House nor the Senate bill addresses. Indeed, this was exactly the concern that led Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to insist that the federal government pick up the entire tab for the Medicaid expansion proposed in the Senate bill.

Recognizing that problem, Democrats included roughly $80 billion in federal Medicaid help in last year’s economic stimulus bill — a treatment of the symptoms, but not the root of the problem. If lawmakers want to avoid having to pass emergency Medicaid spending every time the economy turns south, they’d do well to tackle the underlying flaw in how the program is funded. The only other option, as the Georgia Republicans point out, is for states to slash other things.

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