In December 2019, Georgia’s Governor asked federal officials to approve changes to the state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid is a public health insurance program that currently covers half of Georgia’s children, some low-income seniors and people with disabilities, low- and moderate-income pregnant women, and very low-income parents.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gave states the option to expand Medicaid to cover adults making slightly more than poverty-level wages (about $16,700 for an individual and $35,900 for a family of four). Unfortunately, Georgia is one of only 14 states who have so far refused to extend health insurance to these low-income Georgians. That leaves 408,000 uninsured Georgians ineligible for Medicaid, and at the same time, their incomes remain too low to qualify for financial help to buy coverage through the ACA’s health insurance marketplace.
Governor Kemp’s plan to change Medicaid, called Georgia Pathways, will do little to close this coverage gap. The state estimates the plan will cover only about 50,000 low-income Georgians because of the unwarranted complications that it puts in place. The Governor’s plan ultimately leaves thousands of low-income Georgians uninsured and ignores the most cost-effective solution available: Medicaid expansion.
Some low-income Georgians would be allowed to enroll in Medicaid
This change, sometimes called a “partial Medicaid expansion,” falls short of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion which envisioned that states would cover adults making slightly more than poverty-level income. Under the Governor’s plan, 408,000 Georgians could qualify for coverage—if they can meet the stringent requirements described below. Under a full Medicaid expansion, Georgia could cover 567,000 low-income adults.
Georgians would be subjected to illegal paperwork requirements to enroll in coverage
Under the Governor’s plan, Georgia adults who may qualify for coverage must prove they are working or performing certain activities for at least 80 hours a month. Work and qualifying activities include full or part-time employment, community service, vocational readiness, certain education activities, or job readiness. Qualifying activities do not include caregiving and participating in substance use recovery programs; Georgians who are homeless or have limited access to the internet would not be excused from the reporting requirements.
If the Governor’s plan is approved, Georgians would be required to complete bureaucratic paperwork to prove they are spending 80 hours a month participating in an eligible activity before they can enroll in Medicaid coverage. They must continue to prove their work or other activities to Georgia’s government for at least three months. After that, they would be subject to random requests for proof of continued work.
Other states have attempted to implement similarly burdensome “work requirements.” In those states, thousands of qualified people lost their health care coverage because they were unable to successfully report their work due to technology barriers, insufficient notice from the state about the requirements, bureaucratic mistakes, and other issues. As a result, work requirements are currently the subject of a federal lawsuit and have been deemed illegal by three federal courts.
Low-income Georgians must pay premiums and copays to Georgia’s government
The current proposal requires that Georgians making between 50 – 100% of the federal poverty line (between $6300-$12,700 annually for an individual) would be required to pay monthly premiums of $7-$11 per month. If an enrollee misses two months of premium payments, their coverage would be suspended and after three months of missed payments, the person would lose their coverage. When accessing health care services, enrollees would be required to additionally pay copays of up to $30 per visit.
Traditionally, Medicaid members have not been required to pay premiums or co-pays because their incomes are so low. While the state caps enrollees’ cost-sharing at 5% of a person’s income, that could add up to as much as $600 for an individual and $1300 for a family of four per year, who are surviving on poverty-level wages.
The plan eliminates the option for low-income Georgians to get transportation to their health appointments
Under the Governor’s plan, Georgians who enroll in coverage would not have access to some traditional Medicaid benefits like non-emergency medical transportation. Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) is a free service that provides transportation to people who are covered by Medicaid who do not have their own way to get to and from health appointments or the pharmacy. The program is especially important for people with disabilities, seniors, rural residents, and people of color.
Adequate transportation is important to the health of Georgians because in most cases people need to go to a location outside of their homes to receive medical care. Without access to reliable, safe transportation, Georgians may be forced to skip health appointments, go without medication and ultimately, experience worse health outcomes.
According to the Georgia and Budget Policy Institute, “Cutting out transportation is not likely to significantly reduce state costs but would deeply impact rural Georgians who may live farther away from health facilities. Non-emergency medical transportation is less than two percent of traditional Medicaid spending in Georgia according to GBPI’s budget calculations. A relatively small investment in Medicaid funding could mean a huge difference to Georgians who don’t have reliable access to safe transportation.”
The plan creates a complicated, expensive bureaucracy
The state’s proposed plan creates complicated restrictions and burdens for low-income Georgians. In addition to the paperwork requirements and required cost-sharing, the Governor’s plan would establish a member rewards account and a point reward system for enrollees. Consumers’ monthly premiums would be deposited into their rewards account, which could be used to pay future copays for health services. The point reward system would “reward” individuals for healthy behaviors and add money to the account based on those behaviors.
Indiana initially operated a similar reward system as part of their version of Medicaid expansion. The state saw limited participation and no benefits to beneficiaries’ health because of the complexity of the system, which mirrors Georgia’s in many ways. Ultimately, these kinds of systems are expensive and ineffective at keeping Medicaid enrollees enrolled in coverage, facilitating access to comprehensive benefits, or achieving better health outcomes.
Governor Kemp’s office has not provided an estimate of the costs to the state to operate the rewards systems, track work requirements or collect premiums. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “Other states that have tried to implement a work requirement reported costs ranging from $6 million to $272 million, according to the federal Government Accountability Office.” The intricacies of Georgia’s plan would require significant spending by the state that is not currently budgeted for in the Governor’s plan.
Georgia would pay three times more per person than needed
The Governor’s plan only expands coverage to Georgians making up to the poverty line, rather than slightly more than the poverty level (138% of the federal poverty level) as intended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because Georgia is not proposing a full Medicaid expansion, the state will have to pay three times more per person to carry out this plan. When states fully expand Medicaid, the federal government covers at least 90% of the costs of the expansion and the state has to pay only 10% of the costs. If Georgia were to full expand Medicaid coverage the state would be eligible for this “enhanced match”. Instead, Georgia will pay 33% of the costs (and the federal government will pay the remaining 67% ) of the Governor’s plan–three times more than needed.
Governor Kemp’s plan to change Medicaid in Georgia does not work for Georgians. It would exclude most low-income, uninsured adults and subject those who can enroll to illegal, complicated, and expensive requirements. At the same time, the plan passes up the most cost-effective option to provide coverage to low-income adults in Georgia.
Our elected officials have the power to ensure that every Georgian, regardless of income, have access to affordable, comprehensive coverage. Leaders of 34 other states have made the choice to expand Medicaid and their states are reaping the benefits. Georgia can join them, but elected officials need to hear from you. Ask Governor Kemp and your state legislators to expand Medicaid.