Augusta health care providers see no rush on first days of Affordable Care Act



Health care coverage that began Wednesday under the Affordable Care Act went largely unseen among Au­gusta providers, who reported little new activity in its first days.

The Obama administration said Thursday that it was “very” willing to work with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on an expansion of Medicaid that would cover more than 450,000 people in the state, a move a Deal spokesman said would require billions in new spending that might mean cuts to other programs.

Georgia Regents Health System was prepared for an influx of patients newly covered by insurance “and expected it,” said Nikki Taylor, the assistant director for patient access. “We haven’t seen a huge jump yet.”

On the day the president signed the law in 2010, Uni­ver­sity Hospital got a visit from a patient who thought coverage kicked in immediately. It hasn’t had much to speak of now that it actually has, said Pat Fuller, the director of the emergency department and community Services.

She said people might be waiting because they have not paid their premiums yet or received what they need from insurance companies.

“Give it a couple of more months and we might start seeing something, but right now we haven’t seen any impact from it,” Fuller said.

Barney’s Pharmacy was “pretty slammed all day long” but not by people who showed up with new insurance, pharmacist David Pope said.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot, if any, so far,” he said.

Earlier this week, a senior Obama official said it was anticipating transition problems and even invoked the rollout of Medicare Part D, which was fraught with problems in getting and verifying coverage that snarled pharmacies nationwide.

“That was a hot mess,” Pope said.

The lack of impact might be attributed to low enrollment, he said. More than 2.1 million Americans have enrolled in coverage, about half through the Web site, and an additional 3.9 million were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Child­ren’s Health Insurance Program. But 5.4 million, including 450,000 in Georgia, live in states that have refused federal funds to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government pays 100 percent the first three years and no less than 90 percent in successive years.

In Georgia, that would mean $33 billion more over 10 years and would create 70,000 jobs, House Dem­ocratic leader Stacey Abrams said.

Federal agencies and the White House are willing to work with states to craft different models and have proven that in states such as Arkansas and Iowa, where Medi­caid expansion is being accomplished using private insurance, said White House deputy senior adviser David Simas.

“Because at the end of the day what we are interested in is that people have coverage, that people have the security and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they have coverage, not a one-size-fits-all solution for all states,” he said.

Deal spokesman Brian Rob­in­son said they “would certainly take issue with the White House’s contention that it has shown flexibility on Medicaid expansion.”

States that crafted different models are probably spending just as much as the other states, he said in a statement.

“The (Obama) administration refuses to consider any proposals that protect state taxpayers from billions in new taxes or significant cuts to other priorities, such as education,” Robinson said. “A block grant of Georgia’s share of the money would go a long way toward achieving the administration’s stated goals, without crushing the state budget. That would be true flexibility.”

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