Extended coverage for women pushed

ATLANTA --- Since the mid-1990s, more than half the states have saved their taxpayers millions of dollars on coverage to the poor by tapping into a federal family-planning program -- but not Georgia.


On the eve of next month's legislative session when drastic budget cutting will start, several advocacy groups are wondering why Georgia has missed potential savings.

By extending limited Medicaid coverage to poor women, the state can get the federal government to pay for 90 percent.

Essentially, it means giving the women birth-control pills in an effort to avoid the roughly half of Georgia pregnancies that are unplanned.

Taxpayers would save in two ways: These women would be covered if they were pregnant, and their babies would be covered the moment they're born. Plus, any pregnancy complications would also be covered.

A typical pregnancy can cost about $8,000, and complications can run to $75,000, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Reducing pregnancies in South Carolina saved that state $23 million between 1996-1997 and $19 million in Alabama between 2000-2001, according to the academy.

The program would also benefit women and their babies, according to Dr. Willis Lanier, a past president of the Georgia OBGYN Society.

"It would help their overall health and reduce premature morbidity," he said.

The state's chapter of the Christian Coalition would rather see the focus on talking them out of having sex.

"I would be opposed to any program that encourages or rewards promiscuity," said chapter president Jim Luquire. "Any time you go beyond standing for abstinence, then you lose the opportunity for that person to remain pure and upright."

The budget for the current year includes an appropriation of $225,000 for the state's share with the expectation of bringing in $2 million from Washington. Lobbyists for the Access Healthcare Coalition said they would be pushing to get Georgia in the program because they hope the multi-million-dollar savings will stay in the health care system as higher payments to doctors and hospitals that treat Medicaid patients.