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ACA waivers back on the table

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Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said they’re looking at different types of proposals to help uninsured people keep their health issues from escalating into chronic or serious conditions. If approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the waiver programs could act as alternatives to Medicaid expansion — which the state has rejected.

Hufstetler said that, in hindsight, the requests should have gone in during the last 40-day session, which ended March 31. 

“We may have made a mistake in thinking the ACA would be repealed,” he said. “We said we have to wait and see what the federal government has done, but they haven’t done anything.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle formed Georgia’s Health Care Reform Task Force at the end of the session to come up with a way to restructure how the state delivers healthcare services, to make it more efficient, effective and sustainable.

In addition to Hufstetler, its members are Republican Sens. Renee Unterman of Buford; Dean Burke of Bainbridge; Jack Hill of Reidsville; Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta and Ben Watson of Savannah; and Democrat Sen. Michael Rhett of Marietta.

At the group’s final hearing, held at Berry College Monday, a number of speakers said costs spiral out of control because many people wait until they’re sick enough to go to an emergency room.

“The overriding recommendation was preventative care,” Hufstetler said. “You’ve heard that out of me for several years and the lieutenant governor, who I believe will be elected governor next year, believes that too.”

During the four-hour session Monday, state and national experts presented challenges and potential solutions for the state. A central theme was that the overall health of Georgia residents is affected by their physical, mental and social conditions.

Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, showed a video of the lone physician working in Clay County, where the nearest small hospital is at least 20 miles away.

“All of rural Georgia has problems with poverty, transportation and access to good health care,” Veazey said.

Telemedicine is not an option because Internet speeds aren’t fast enough. However, several legislative committees are working on the issue, including the House Rural Development Council where Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, serves.

“We’ll have several potential solutions in about a year,” Hufstetler predicted, adding that AT&T has a project called AirGig that would use existing power lines.

Another study committee — the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Access in Government chaired by Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome — is looking at ways to merge data collected by various state agencies to provide an analysis of the problems.

“The point is, we’ve got to treat the person as a whole,” Hufstetler said. “We’ve got to have the data to treat them as a whole and we’ve got to have the access to broadband to treat them as a whole.”

Along with the waivers, the healthcare task force expects to have specific legislative recommendations and a long-term plan by the time the new General Assembly starts in mid-January.

“I think there will be some big changes in Georgia,” Hufstetler said. “It will be easier to get primary care in the future.”