ATLANTA — Governor Kemp rolled out what he calls a holistic and innovative plan to insure Georgians who have gone uninsured for years. It’s the state’s attempt to tiptoe toward Medicaid expansion – something long sought by Democrats and opposed by Republicans like Kemp.
But critics say it falls way short, saying it leaves hundreds of thousands of Georgians without health insurance.
With state employment at a near-record high, Kemp says he wants to make more workers available, and is using his new health insurance plan as an incentive.
Kemp hopes to add to the workforce by making work a requirement for government-backed health insurance – a concept that has faced court challenges in other states.
"One of the biggest issues in our state is workforce development. Everywhere I go ... people need more people in the workforce," Kemp told reporters Monday.
Kemp’s plan for health insurance requires:
- a job;
- job training;
- education enrollment;
- or volunteer work.
If they reach 80 hours per month, those Georgians can earn access to insurance coverage or Medicaid – and would be required to pay a premium for the coverage.
"We’re creating a pathway," Kemp said. "They can make fundamental change in their lives and their careers. And that’s going to be good for them and good for the state."
The federal government would have to approve Kemp's plan, and the legislature would have to OK state spending that supplements the federal contribution.
Critics acknowledged it would enroll in health insurance programs thousands of Georgians who don't have it now.
"There is virtue in the state putting a step forward, and we applaud that," said Taifa Butler of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. "But again, it’s not enough."
Critics say look at the numbers. Kemp’s office points out that 409,000 Georgians would be eligible to participate in the health insurance program. But Kemp’s office expects 25,000 of them to participate in the first year – and about 52,500 by the program’s fifth year.
Butler says Kemp should be expanding Medicaid instead.
"If you have a hundred thousand people who need coverage and we’re only going to solve it for ten, that seems to be - again - not enough," she said.
Kemp derided Medicaid expansion as a "sound bite" that would "bankrupt" the state if it did so.
Georgia is among 14 states have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That’s unlikely to change – as long as Republicans control the state Capitol.