Georgia marks first US state approved to privatize Medicaid coverage enrollment

Last modified October 16, 2020. Published October 16, 2020.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma sign health care waivers at the state Capitol in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Georgia's plans would provide Medicaid access to adults who make less than poverty level incomes who meet work requirements, and leave private brokers as the only avenue to buy federally-subsidized private insurance for people with above-poverty incomes. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma sign health care waivers at the state Capitol in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Georgia's plans would provide Medicaid access to adults who make less than poverty level incomes who meet work requirements, and leave private brokers as the only avenue to buy federally-subsidized private insurance for people with above-poverty incomes. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

Georgia is set to become the first U.S. state to offer federally subsidized health insurance exclusively through private companies, after the federal government approved the state’s controversial plan Thursday.

Under the state’s proposal, which is set to be fully implemented by January 2023, Georgians who are eligible to enroll in Medicaid will no longer be allowed to use the federal website Healthcare.gov to do so. Instead, they will be required to go through private brokers, websites and health insurance companies. 

The state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, said private providers would provide more extensive health care options and better service than the government. 

“We have worked with a team of experts and the Trump administration to develop a Georgia-centric health care plan that provides access to health insurance for the first time to hundreds of thousands of Georgians, and makes it affordable for millions more,” Kemp said on Thursday. 

Democratic opponents argued that the bill’s banning of Healthcare.gov will mean that the roughly 500,000 Georgians who currently use the site to enroll in health insurance will be left with fewer options, and that private health care companies will use the bill as an opportunity to sell non-federally compliant plans to customers looking for lower premiums. 

The plan also imposes a controversial requirement that nondisabled adults must work, volunteer or enroll in job training or school in order to be eligible for Medicaid coverage, a measure opposed by Democrats. The work requirement measure is similar to others passed in states such as Arizona and Arkansas, though those are currently subject to legal challenges. 

“These changes will disproportionately impact low-income, rural and communities of color in Georgia,” saidGloria Butler, a Democratic state senator opposing the bill. “It is not only unconscionable, but a very bad economic scheme. Georgia will lose billions of dollars.” 

Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the 2018 governor’s race to Kemp, called the bill a “health care scam” Thursday. 

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, approved a waiver Thursday that is a key step in implementing the bill. 

“President Trump has long understood that states should have maximum flexibility over their own health care programs, because innovative leaders like Governor Kemp know their states and have good ideas worth testing,” said Verma at a press conference in Atlanta. “I’m thrilled to support this comprehensive state-led reform that will help thousands of working adults in Georgia gain access to coverage for the first time in a way that addresses both their health and socioeconomic needs.”

Yet Verma warned that the plan will face legal challenges, according to the Georgia Recorder, saying that opponents will “weaponize” the legal system. 

If Georgia’s plan makes it past legal challenges, it is likely to set a precedent, meaning that other red states may seek to implement similar provisions. 

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