Bill restricting Medicaid expansion in Georgia passes

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ATLANTA — Lawmakers in Georgia would get the final say on whether to expand a government health insurance program for the poor under a bill passed Tuesday, making it even less likely the state will join an overhaul sought by President Obama.

The election-year legislation came up for a vote in the General Assembly during a busy, second-to-last day of the legislative session. Legislators are in a mad rush to pass their bills because any legislation that does not win approval by the final day Thursday automatically fails.
One of the most significant bills would give Georgia’s Re­pub­lican-dominated Legislature authority over whether to loosen the rules governing how much money people can make and still qualify for the government-funded Medicaid program.

The Democratic health care plan required states to expand their Medicaid programs to include people who are too poor to afford subsidized health insurance but otherwise ineligible for government programs. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states would get to decide whether to expand Medi­caid.

Republicans including Gov. Nathan Deal have said the long-run costs of expansion are too expensive. His administration estimates it would cost Georgia roughly $48 million in the first full year, but those costs would rise to nearly $498 million by 2023.

“We believe that a decision about an entitlement program should be made by the legislative branch and not an appointed board,” said state Sen. David Shafer, the Republican president pro tempore. “The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt. … We should be careful about doing our long-term planning based on promises the federal government is making.”

Capitol police arrested 39 protesters on misdemeanor charges of disrupting the Legislature after they chanted from the Senate gallery in support of enlarging Medicaid, rallied outside the Senate’s door and held a sit-in at the governor’s office.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the Atlanta congregation formerly headed by Martin Luther King Jr., urged politicians to think of the uninsured during a rally that attracted about 100 people.

“They are our neighbors,” said Warnock, who was arrested. “They work in restaurants and cook and wash dishes and provide haircuts... They work at the bedsides sometimes of people who have health care.”

Lawmakers also voted to put in place new restrictions on funding for abortions. Under legislation adopted Tuesday, companies selling health insurance on federally run exchanges and the state employee health plan could not pay for abortions except when a pregnancy threatened the life or health of the mother. Democratic opponents said the bill interfered with a woman’s right to get an abortion and allowed no exceptions for women who are raped.

Taxpayers would borrow $17 million to build a parking deck largely to complement a new Falcons stadium that will be built in Atlanta. That spending was included in a $42.4 state budget adopted by lawmakers Tuesday. It now heads to the governor for approval.

Other measures under consideration would:

• Require drug testing for people receiving food stamps;

• Allow Georgia to adopt a medical marijuana program for patients suffering from some illnesses. The proposal from the House became ensnared in back-and-forth negotiations with the Senate involving a separate proposal to expand insurance coverage for autism.

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