FILE - Georgia state capitol building

Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta

(The Center Square) – Georgia House Democrats plan to push for Medicaid expansion in the wake of COVID-19, but some critics say the program is not the cure for the public health emergency.

Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a free market public policy think tank, said expanding Medicaid would put Georgia on the hook for at least $300 million a year in spending amid an economic crisis. Data also have not shown a connection between Medicaid coverage and lower COVID-19 rates, he said.

“Right on cue, proponents of Medicaid expansion are touting the program as a way for Georgia to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wingfield wrote in a media release. “When all you have in the way of solutions is more government spending, then every crisis, challenge or blip on the radar looks like a reason for more government spending.”

Georgia is among 14 states that have not increased access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

While the ACA calls for raising the eligibility income threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Gov. Brian Kemp submitted a waiver to the federal government in December that would extend Medicaid eligibility to up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or a little more than $12,000 annually. It is still pending approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

As of Monday, the infection rate per million of the population in the nonexpansion states was three times less than the District of Columbia and the 36 states that have expanded Medicaid. The death rate per million was five times higher in the expanded states, according to Kansas Policy Institute data.

Georgia, with a population of 10.6 million, ranks 19th among the other states with 3,156 COVID-19 cases, and 16th with 132 deaths per a million people in the state, according to the data published Monday.

Proponents of Medicaid expansion say uninsured Americans are less likely to seek treatment or be tested for COVID-19.

Georgia does not fair as well when compared with Ohio, a Medicaid expansion state with a population of 11.6 million people. Ohio had 2,060 COVID-19 cases and 115 deaths per million Monday.

Policy analysts at the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that analyzes tax policies and proposed budgets, said the state could afford the $3 billion Medicaid expansion if lawmakers did not give a $309 million tax break to insurance companies. State revenue could also be raised by increasing Georgia’s tobacco taxes, they said.

State Economist Jeffrey Dorfman said Wednesday Georgia may need to draw up to $1.5 billion from its reserves to make up for its impending revenue shortfall and to close out fiscal year 2020.

After a review of public comments on Kemp’s partial Medicaid expansion, two advocacy groups in favor of a full expansion said they found 92 percent of commenters said they disapproved of the governor’s final plan.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.