Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was right to be cautious about expanding Medicaid under health care reform as the state needs to weigh all of its options, the co-chairman of the legislative Medicaid study committee said Wednesday.
Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health toured facilities at Georgia Regents University and came away impressed with what they saw, particularly in cancer care, said Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, chairman of the subcommittee and co-chairman of the Joint Study Committee on Medicaid Reform.
“Some of the things that they’re doing, it is almost like science fiction,” he said, such as tailoring treatments to the person or the cancer’s genetic makeup. Once it becomes more widely known, patients will not look to other places for their cancer care, Parrish said.
“I think you are going to see them staying here and then I think you will see folks from other states come in once they realize that the cancer center is world famous,” he said.
The university has benefited more so than many other schools in recent years from investment from the state in areas like cancer, dental medicine and in the new J. Harold Harrison Education Commons building, said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, the vice chairman of the subcommittee.
“There is a commitment to this school that I sometimes think we overlook in our area,” he said. The university is able to attract state support in part because it can show private and philanthropic funding, Parrish said.
“I think that speaks volumes to those in the legislature who say, ‘Look, the local community and the public out there think this is important enough that they are willing to invest in it,’ ” he said. “It makes it easier to go ask for the state to participate with that public-private partnership.”
That wasn’t always the case, said Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, a member of the subcommittee.
“But I think the realization of what GRU is now and is going to be in the future is bringing more people to want to be participating and gifting and endowing,” she said. And it should not just be Augusta support, Sims said.
“This is not just an Augusta facility. We need people from all over the state of Georgia to appreciate this and to be involved in giving also because this goes across the state to every community,” she said.
The prospect of being able to offer more state support appears better than in past years, Parrish said. For the first time in many years, the governor’s office is not asking state agencies to prepare budgets for next year with automatic cuts built in, he said. The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute reports that the 2013 Fiscal Year that ended in June left the state with a $309 million revenue surplus and Parrish said economic trends are more encouraging.
But he said Deal was right to hold off on Medicaid expansion even if the first three years are wholly federally funded, citing the governor’s office estimate that expansion would cost $4.5 billion over 10 years.
“I think the governor did the right thing by looking at it very cautiously and moving slowly with it,” Parrish said.
The terms could change and then the state would still be obligated to cover those new patients, Harbin said.
“Once you open that gate, you can’t close it,” he said. “You’ve allowed those people in. You’ve got to cover them. It would be extremely cruel not to cover them after that. I think we just have to be very, very cautious of what (the Affordable Care Act) is going to do.”